Genre lines can provide plenty of artists with a place to bloom, but for many others, it can mean stagnation, even death. The best bands are the ones hell-bent on improving their art, no matter what that means. A lot of folks seem to be really butthurt about Pittsburgh skram outfit Shin Guard changing their name and adopting a new sound, but those folks need to take a breath, because the Pestilence EP by the newly-christened Hazing Over is ten minutes of brutalizing musical madness.
From the moment the record opens, the listener already knows they’re in for some fuckin’ riffs. Big, crunchy guitars fill the sonic spectrum, dousing the tracks in heady chugs, squealing overtones and plenty of quick shreddy melodies. The fat, rumbly bass sits in the center of the mix like a Snorlax, underneath which the drums batter out dizzying rhythms and syncopated patterns across the kit. The vocals are a snarl, a growl, and a roar all rolled into one. Seriously, the sound of this band is frightening, in the best way.
Pestilence uses a much heavier palette than any of this group’s earlier releases. Rather than the color chords and pained speak-singing that were hallmarks of the Shin Guard sound, Hazing Over have embraced a more death-heavy direction with this EP. Every track is bruised and battered by bouts of blastbeats and hammering double kick patterns. The strings hold the frothing pace of the songs with swathes of tremolo picking, dropping their tunings down into demon territory to grab those vicious bass-heavy dives. The screams are dark and throaty, scraping those sounds from the very bottom of the lungs.
Hazing Over is definitely honing a deathcore edge in their new music, but to call Pestilence “Shib plays deathcore” would be wholly reductive. While the members of Hazing Over have largely traded in their melodic paintbrushes for pulverizing metal meat tenderizers, Pestilence is not just ten straight minutes of speedpicking and growls. “Sty” serves up grindy blasts that race the guitar harmonies down at full speed. “Jock” opens and closes with a cheeky and driving synth riff, while “Ungodly” and the title track both toy with melodic metalcore influences, dropping small moments of consonance and searing guitar leads between brutish chugs and screaming sass chords.
There is a very aggressive energy rising like heat off of Pestilence, and the lyrics crank that heat up to cauterize. “Sty” addresses our country’s ongoing battle against police brutality and racism, aiming poisoned barbs like “one small step for pigkind” and “I don’t need a badge / to assert my dominance.” Both “Jock” and “Ungodly” readily embrace a lens of blatant anger, delivering unadorned bursts of targeted fury like ”Fuck your vibes” or “I know you’re purposeless.”
Such an aggro attitude certainly fits the sound that Hazing is going for with this EP, but it is woven into a mesh of intelligence and honest self-awareness. Lines like “Breaking down just to catch a break / Laying low as they raise the stakes” express pain without powerlessness. The title track can even be interpreted as addressing the band’s decision to metamorphose; lyrics like “Rejecting this isn’t of any use” and “Now I’m forced to resort to this acceptance / but I have come to terms, so don’t forget this” suggest the necessity of embracing the change facing you, rather than resisting it—a message any haters out there really ought to hear.
I have a deep appreciation for Shin Guard’s releases, and in my opinion, Pestilence only serves to elevate that legacy. Art is something that grows, that has to grow, and it is a courageous act to acknowledge that growth, let alone embrace it. Hazing Over have given us four songs on a whole new echelon of heavy, songs that absolutely rip, and songs that Shin Guard could have not given us. I for one am wholly excited to see what filth this band brings us next, and simultaneously terrified and titillated by the idea of (someday) being thrown around in a pit to these monster riffs.
My Top Track: “Sty”