It’s really funny to think that punk music (and its myriad subgenres), originally a bastion of the individual, the nonconformist, has since become a rigid, unbending template. Book a show in the punk scene, and unless your songs consist of power chords, cut beats and barks, you are unlikely to get invited back. I don’t know why everyone is so vehemently afraid of mixed bills these days, of variety, of exploration outside the comfort zone, but one thing I do know: it’s easier to be accepted when you look and sound like everyone else.
That’s why I absolutely love bands that refuse to conform to any standard. Rather than stick to safe derivative riffs, they push against the walls, striving to shatter them and see what’s beyond. It’s a dangerous decision, sometimes an ostracizing one even, but those bands who risk being disliked to make honest, innovative music are the ones who make a real impact. And that’s exactly what NJ hardcore punk act IDES is doing on their latest LP.
Aptly released on the Ides of March, Hikikomori is an album of foreboding and furious performances. The guitars seem to roll through an entire lifetime’s worth of riffs: straight strummed chord progressions lead into metal melodies, chuggy palm mutes, or even sleepy shoegaze arpeggios. The vocals roar in throaty shouts and biting, seething chants that stir the vitriol of the album to a frenzy. The bass batters through the mix with a punchy tone that makes those fuzz-soaked harmonics pop. The drums run the gamut of style, pumping out blastbeats in “Never Knows Best” only to spend “Interlude” spinning a quiet beat on the hihats and snare rim.
The composition on Hikikomori is as varied as the performances. Though every song maintains the backbone of punk, IDES is not happy to stay there. Rather, they use that backbone as a launchpad into other styles and sounds. “Post-Human” opens with whispered vocals over spacey arpeggiated chords, yet wanders into quick, screechy shredding before the end, reminiscent of the first Rage Against the Machine record. Songs like “Yake-Niku” or “Arise” play with noisy hardcore feels and heavy blasting, while “Interlude” wanders into emo/post-hardcore territory, shuffling quiet grooves and spoken word before bursting into big hits.
IDES bends other genres into their hardcore punk roots, twisting sounds and styles into a shape that is uniquely theirs, and no song displays this better than “Frenetic Burnout.” A gentle pop-punky groove opens the song as the vocals croon “What would happen / if you changed your attitude?” As if in response to the lyrics, the band lights the fuse by jumping into quick thrashing chords and furious cut beats. Yet IDES stays in this style for only a minute, soon dropping into a headbanging rhythmic breakdown coated in distortion and chaos. The final bout of the song mixes syncopated hits, maddening snare rolls and Morello-esque super high guitar slides, before slamming the brakes entirely and burning out as quickly as it began.
While the instrumentation is totally wildin’ across the sound spectrum, the lyrics are focused and deliberate. Each song reads like a poem as the vocals mold the words into a melody over the aggressive instrumentation. IDES cover both the personal and the political in their writing, reinforcing those important messages with a vivid, relatable perspective. “Hysteric” is a feminist call-to-arms, stripping both stigma and shame from stark, feminine images like “silver coat hanger glinting in the night” and “Loping as the blood trickled down our legs.” “Console Cowboys” analyzes the diseases of social media and the online masks we all craft, while “Post-Human” rails against the terrible effects humans have had on the environment. Sculpting their message with intelligence and an honest angry voice, Hikikomori really takes on the entire world in its subject matter, to very powerful effect.
Hikikomori is a record drenched in passion—the performances are visceral, the lyrics bombastic yet sculpted. It resonated so immediately with me that I purchased my copy before I’d even listened all the way through. IDES doesn’t bat an eyelash as they barrel beyond the boundaries of hardcore and punk, nor at taking on an entire world that seems beset against them. Hikikomori is truly a fearless piece of art, relevant to the issues so many of us are facing in this strange dystopic now (the title in fact translates to “social isolation,” and what’s more relatable than that right now?). It’s a beacon of rage in a dark dark world, and I will undoubtedly be spinning this record for years to come.
My Top Tracks: “Never Knows Best” into “Interlude”