Words: Brady Irwin
In the day and age where everyone equipped with a set of keys and an LCD screen can wreak havoc on online platforms, it’s often beneficial to have the perspective of experience. Orange County grindcore legends Phobia, having laid waste to the scene since 1990, offer a sneering, snarling and at times almost self-parodying rejection of the heavily politicised discourse of the late 2010s Internet with their definitive, genre-hopping bluntness and intensity wrapped in the aural hot-take that is Generation Coward.
Wasting no time with formalities, Ray Band flicks the introductory ‘Cynical Bastard’ off with a tight snare roll straight into some sludgy, distorted groove riffage courtesy of guitarists Bruce Reeves and Jason Roberts (who unfortunately is no longer with the band following this EP), and bassist Calum McKenzie. Giving the mosh floor enough room for flat-brimmed tough-guys to chest beat with bravado, the simple chugger is punctured by a death metal tremolo riff and Shane The Pain‘s forceful, guttural lows of ‘generation coward!’, descending into almost blackened thrash territory with some evil, pulsing d-beat. Before we get too excited about the band having a prog hang-up all of a sudden, the bands’ trademark rasp-to-growl, hardcore inflected blasting roars out of the gates with no hesitation.
The definitely-ironically titled ‘Haters Be Hating When Ya Living Good’ is just seven seconds of rolling snare blasts and shrieks, then it’s done. Napalm Death, anyone?
Recent single ‘Imbecile’ wastes about as much time with the pleasantries, launching straight into it. Riding atop that infamously four-to-the-floor power-chord groove, the band comfortably shift between mosh-inducing punk grooves and periods of sharp, concise blasting with relative ease. And then it’s done; in true grindcore box-full-of-hand-grenades brevity, you’ve barely enough time to get your bearings before the next one lays wastes to your heads’ auditory cavities. ‘Bozo of Grind’ starts with some epic dive-bombs and then is done, finito, nine seconds later. Wait, what?
Breaking up these back-and-forths is a sampled audio clip about, well, being an ‘Internet Tough Guy’, which befits the song perfectly. Without getting too ‘get off my lawn, you damn kids!’ about it, Phobia manage to tear their two cents about the age of hypocritical, meek keyboard warriors into a vitriolic, rollicking mash of blast-beats, thumping chord progressions. Atop the punkier sections, we are also treated to the ravenous dog barks of guest vocalist Krysta Curry of Transience, who adds a vocal feel not unlike early Converge. Alas, not much more can be said when this venom-flecked track is done and dusted by the one-minute forty-five seconds mark with an almost hard-rock styled marching outro.
By the halfway mark of , Yours Truly had barely completed setting about making a coffee and writing notes before realising how far we’d come already. A devilish grin overcame me as I undertook this mundane activity, however, what with the dual guttural roars and sledgehammer riffs of ‘Excretion’ repeatedly beating down the room with thick, distorted walls of beatdown riffs, sprinkled with some ridiculously snappy, tight blasts. This isn’t an album for your everyday chores, lest you want to snap your plates in half – this is high-octane, adrenaline-soaked fuel for fighting bears and chopping trees with your bare hands.
Indeed, sitting still without at least banging your head violently would be doing this brief killer of an album a disservice. Case in point, the briefly High On Fire warped, stoner groove intro of ‘Cut Throat’, which sweeps that rug out fairly quickly for a frantically-paced blasting assault, kicking the tempo up higher than previous tracks and keeping it there at a relentless pace. Even what threatens to sound like a good old-fashioned breakdown doesn’t survive long before waves of tremolo-infected guitar trample over everything.
Almost comically so, the quote from Team America: World Police about dicks, pussies and assholes reverberates over feedback and opens the incredibly opaque ‘PC Fascist Fuck Off’ into a slamming barrage of thick riffs, a couple of blasts and a snarling, repeating proclamation of the track title. No need for in-depth discourse analysis here; the proof is in the Discharge-filled pudding about what these guys think about extreme political ideology of any sort.
‘Aspiration Lost’ opens with a much more sinister and foreboding intro, the use of plodding drums, extended barks and dual tremolo creating more of an old-school death metal atmosphere, which brings an air of incisive seriousness back to the album. It sticks around just long enough for high-pitched shrieks of ‘WAKE UP!’ to snap you back to attention with the rollicking, chord and chug heavy ‘Falsification’, which is once again over before it began.
Ratcheting up the ante once more, ‘Miserable Awakening’ lays the metal aesthetic over another nasty riff, before we’re treated to an immediate scene crossover shift with Oi-styled gang chants and mid-tempo riffs in an almost self-deprecating fashion. Other bands, even established death-grind units, would be less capable of pulling off such glaring aesthetic tipoffs to hardcore, grind, metal and punk, but the entire blend is smoothly baked into Phobia’s formula. Almost as though the band were amassing the collective ambience of the thousands of shows and stages they’ve shared in the underground scene.
Demonstrating this once more, ‘To Be Convinced’ kicks off with pure grind fury, then pushes back to the fringes of hardcore punk and powerviolence, infusing double kicks, blasts, sharp dissonant chords and even some tasty old-school leads and shredding into a 90-second song. Far from being formless, the flow-on effect between subgenres and motifs is clear and concise, like an encyclopedia of the underground being flicked through at 120bpm.
Rounding off the brief but intense degustation of underground sounds, the slow-paced and evil crawling riff of ‘Condemned To Tell’ gives off far more of a classic death metal feel than prior tracks, utilising a steady but comparatively crawling pace that wouldn’t sound unfamiliar to a young Slayer, before falling off the face of the Earth in a pile of leads, feedback and drum rolls.
And just like that, we’re done. No need for infusing dynamic shoegaze-influenced segues, no clean and shiny post-production, no hiding behind dawdling sections of pseudo-prog. Whilst the extreme metal scene at large plays more with dynamics and soundscapes than ever before, there’ll always be a scene for those who want to get in kick, slap your face silly, deliver a punctual message, kick your teeth in and go home. Generation Coward brings the mosh together from across all areas of the fast underground in a no-nonsense, pit-ready fashion.
Generation Coward is available through the Phobia Bandcamp and will be releasing August 9th. Click here for the pre-order link.