In 2011, Nails created what I’m entirely secure in calling a perfect hardcore album. Unsilent Death was swift, loud, breakneck, merciless, well-paced, instantly memorable, and just under fifteen minutes. It hit you in the face like shrapnel blasted through a wind tunnel, and it stuck with you like the gruesome and mangled wounds that would inevitably result from such an event. Along with Slayer’s Reign in Blood, it’s one of my go-to records for if I need to down a giant mug of coffee and wake the fuck up right goddamn now. When Nails announced the release of Abandon All Life, their second LP, I was at first skeptical. How could they repeat the magic a second time, and create an album that even came close to the perfection of Unsilent Death? I’ll get this out of the way before anything else: they didn’t. But that doesn’t mean Abandon All Life won’t break your fucking spine.
The production, once again curated by Converge’s own Kurt Ballou (aka GOD HIMSELF), sounds beefier and more savage than ever. He’s able to make the Boss HM-2 Entombedcore sound be fresh and arresting, rather than another tired gimmick that Southern Lord hardcore bands use and abuse in abundance. The lead screams from Todd Jones are even more acerbic and savage than ever, sounding less like Unsilent Death’s wounded bear howls and more like the kind of voice that could peel the paint off your walls. Each song hits you like a gauntlet-cloaked fist to the face and leaves you reeling from the impact, but the only problem is that there’s rarely a distinction to be made between each bruise left on your helpless mug.
Whereas each and every track from Unsilent Death was instantly memorable, so many of the cuts on Abandon All Life sound almost exactly the same. You could explain to me in excruciating detail how “In Exodus,” “Absolute Control,” and “No Surrender” are all different songs, but I’d honestly find it hard to believe you. While “Pariah” has a pretty solid D-beat groove to it, the only thing that distinguishes “Cry Wolf” from the rest of the pack is the string of expletives it ends with. That’s not to say that there aren’t killer cuts on here, though; it seems like Nails put most of their effort in terms of songwriting into the slower tracks, which definitely distinguishes them from most operating hardcore bands. “Wide Open Wound” has a very memorable mid-paced groove that sounds equal parts Entombed and Eyehategod, and the closer “Suum Cuique” – actually, can we talk about “Suum Cuique” for just a second? Because this song devastates. It slouches toward Bethlehem with one of the most lurchy, grinding, and just fucking brutal invisible grapefruit-worthy riffs that I’ve ever heard for a good five minutes (that’s about a quarter of the album’s running time right there!), before being swamped in a wash of noise and static. This is what I expected to hear from a new Nails LP, and it’s certainly what I got, but it’s disappointing when I remember that most of the other tracks aren’t as up to par.
If you’re looking for a good seventeen-minute aural assault, look no further. Nails have taken one step forward in terms of brutality, but some of the songwriting seems to have taken a step back. Unlike Unsilent Death, the album isn’t pure gold all the way through, but the ratio is still skewed very heavily in gold’s favor. And while the forgettable tracks aren’t very distinctive, they can hardly be called bad at all! If you call yourself a fan of grind, hardcore, D-beat, sludge, or bleak music in general, you need this album in your collection. Or at least “Suum Cuique.”