Album Review | Living Conditions | Vows

I’m really running out of ideas for intro paragraphs, so for some inspiration, I put today’s record on full blast in my living room and thrashed around. It didn’t help with the intro paragraph at all, but I can assure you, the new mini-LP Vows by Omaha skramheads Living Conditions is one motherfucker of a listen.

Though it opens with a soft and foreboding synth intro (synthro?), Vows is anything but gentle. The smashed snare drum snaps like a gunshot amid a torrent of ringing cymbals. Gravelly, fuzz-wrapped basslines dominate the low end, giving the crusty guitars plenty of space to battle each other with squealing dissonants or bruiser power chords. The ghoulish vocals sit forefront in the mix, but the smear of reverb adds a breath to the screams that set them apart from the grinding instrumentation.

Skramz is one of the many subgenres that budded off the hardcore host back in the 90’s, and Vows reunites that sound with its roots. The average song length is just over 90 seconds, which the band packs full of punchy chord progressions and aggressive percussion. Tracks like “Albion Days” and “Death Party / Red Spraypaint” use steadfast drumming and powerful rhythmic shifts that stir the brain into a frenzy (or blend it into slop). The instrumentals are battering and unforgiving, yet the band’s inclusion of time signature shifts, swathes of melody, blast beats and bulbous chugs add depth and intention that swell far beyond simple genre lines.

Indeed, Living Conditions’ use of melodics amid their noisy, driving riffs is feeding a need I didn’t know I had. So much of Vows is thumping blasts and battering minor-key progressions, but the band cuts the heavy with powerful, emotional melodic sections. “Art Without a Gun” opens with a cute catchy guitar melody before dropping us into an emoviolence blender. The whirlwind intro of “Your World at Night” gently unwinds into some emotional stringwork replete in color tones. Similarly, the album’s closer “T.R.V.E. to You” is built around a simple series of descending consonant notes, which are reimagined in more vicious form in the middle of the song before being reprised at the very end.

Living Conditions’ use of melody has to be one of my favorite aspects of Vows. The band strategically employs emotional melodic movements to break up their onslaught of high-energy hits and wailing vocals. Bursts of consonance and quiet juxtapose sharply with the chaotic strings and cascading beats, tugging the listeners’ ears and innards back and forth between the safe and scary. This undulating wave of dynamics keeps Vows moving at a breakneck pace, and sure as hell keeps my head bobbing to the beat until my neck hurts.

In less than a half hour, Living Conditions create a powerful, evocative musical journey of which every second is engrossing and exciting. This band takes their hardcore base and blends into it crust-punk intensity, blackened scrams, and post-hardcore melodics. Vows is a record without a single “dud” track—I don’t skip a second when I listen to this record, and I doubt you will either. Overall this is one extremely promising release from an extremely promising band, and I can’t wait to see where they head next. 

My Top Track: “Art Without a Gun”

Living Conditions are based out of Omaha, NE. They don’t have any social media yet as far as I can tell, but you can stream Vows on Spotify, or grab your own digital copy from Living Conditions’ Bandcamp page.

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