There are few bands that truly leave a gaping hole in the scene when they break up, but when The Dillinger Escape Plan played their final show in 2017, it sounded very much like a death knell for the wild mathcore genre. It was a sound that burgeoned during the early-aughts, but as the new millennium turned ten, most of those brutally talented bands and their dominating composition styles seemed to drift out of sight. Since the death of Dillinger, there’s been a disturbing lack of hectic and technical riffing, but the debut full-length Puff Pieces by Under the Pier plugs the gap with some refreshingly relevant jams.
In stark contrast to its snarky title, Puff Pieces is spilling over with substance and energy. The band’s performances are maniacally aggressive; it sounds like Under the Pier probably wrecked the studio in the process of pressing their tunes to tape. The guitar parts are soaked in dissonance, smashing chugs and panic chords between sweeping melodics and quick glissandos. Bass riffs run up and down the neck, intermingling quick arpeggios and tapping with punchy, booming low notes. The drums are hit so hard and fast that it’s a wonder the kit doesn’t shatter before the end of each song. Between distorted spoken sequences, the vocals deliver vicious, throaty yells that drip with palpable rage.
Under the Pier perform each of their songs as if it the last thing they will do, yet for all their audial thrashing, they’re as tight as an army bedspread. The band hurls time signature changes and tempo shifts at the listener like a slurry of throwing knives: “The ICU” opens in 5/4 before slipping into a speedy 11/8, while “Wagon Wheel on Repeat Until You Kill Yourself” builds a breakdown over alternating measures of 5 and 6. The drums pump out complex syncopated kick patterns between stints of jackhammer blastbeats. Similarly, the strings pile jazz-fueled melodic runs on top of one another, shaping complex chord progressions and then distorting them further with tense color tones.
With its constantly-mutating song structures and near countless time signatures, Puff Pieces packs everything a mathcore fanatic could want. But Under the Pier aren’t just giving CPR to a dead genre’s bloated corpse; rather, they’re honoring the memory of the sound by imbuing it with new and relevant energy. The guitar’s panic chords and the relentless, noisy breakdowns use the same palette that the entire screamo/chaotic hardcore scene has been exploring the past few years. The vocals often leech into throaty lows and death growls that suggest a blackened influence. And the virtuosic closing track “Payoff” features two slow, pretty guitars teasing emotional chords and tones from one another, a beautiful bright coda after a symphony of dark, bludgeoning metal.
The writing on Puff Pieces is as percussive and bombastic as the instrumentation. Aggression practically bleeds from the lyrics, wielded by a razor-sharp voice that hacks away anything in its path. Much of the language draws upon biblical or religious references, which are used to criticize the very source of those images. The opener “Brown Note Baptist Church” begins with what sounds like a clip of a sermon, before the band delivers their own vitriolic homily against blind faith and deepthroating doctrine. Lines like “I’m waiting for you to liberate my fucking mind / You walk across water / you split the Red Sea” or “praying for the flood to take you out” ring like swords drawn straight out of the Bible, swords which Under the Pier uses to slice the good book in two.
Much of this lofty language and casual blasphemy actually folds into one of the main lyrical themes on Puff Pieces: the abandonment of family. Lyrics like “just learn to leave me here / Father you look familiar” from “Brown Note Baptist Church” paint a scene with a missing character, while “Read’em and Weep Kids” demonstrates the aftermath of that absence: “Your family’s name is raped in your regret.” “Idol/Idle” addresses this subject head on with screams of “the family crest is cursed” and “abandon your family / we’ll forget our last names / you’re not the man you’re supposed to be.” Folding this into the religious background of the writing, and the opening line to “Attrition,” “You’re no fucking god,” rings as an accusation of a man as much as a deity.
Under the Pier are a band just seething energy, and it seeps into every single aspect of this record. Puff Pieces douses its controlled compositions with a bucket of chaos, somehow reconciling those opposites into nine heated and addictive tunes. Under the Pier pay tribute to their predecessors without feeling derivative, instead using those embers to spark their refreshing and complex sound. There are a lot of cold and hungry mathcore fans out there (myself very much included), and when they see this blaze that is Under the Pier raging on the horizon, they’re gonna come running.
My Top Track: “Wagon Wheel on Repeat Until You Kill Yourself”