The best art stems from passion, particularly in music. Contrary to what the business and media moguls would have you believe, the most emphatic and long-lasting response comes to an act whose output is a lot more believable and real in terms of emotion and intent. Which is why it’s strange that a large majority of these acts fail to break out beyond an underground level. Case in point – Rough Hands, a band who’ve been plugging around the underground hardcore scene for a few years now with an incredibly raw, visceral take on the genre, but have largely failed to leave their mark. And while on a mainstream level that’s understandable, beyond a dedicated few they’ve been ignored by virtually everyone, presumably dismissed as just another name on the continuously growing docket of British hardcore bands. As a response, debut album Let Me Win Your Hearts And Minds is a statement of intent if there ever was one, one that sees Rough Hands as one of the most vital and under-appreciated bands the underground has to offer.
This is almost wholly a case of tone and execution. Anger is hardly a foreign concept in hardcore, but Rough Hands switch the typical wiry blitzes for fat, sludgy riffs and a tremendous sense of dread and foreboding. It’s claustrophobic and powerful as hell, especially with Alex Dench’s acerbic vocal performances which feels like yanking off layers of skin. As has probably become apparent by now, Let Me Win Your Hearts And Minds is not an album for the faint-hearted, and in tracks like the guttural opener Choke or the grinding lurch of Leaving My Will (the fragmented opening of which is fittingly reminiscent of Korn’s Blind), there’s evidently a darker brand of hardcore dredged and twisted for this powerful end statement.
It becomes clear how much this actually works in Rough Hands’ favour when placed next to the more traditional permutations of modern hardcore. The band actually do it themselves on this album, if only in snippets; the double-time gallop of Mask Of Sanity‘s first half could be virtually any other underground hardcore band, and though it’s among the album’s weakest moments, it’s welcome in the way that it shows the previous benchmark that Rough Hands manage to bulldoze their way through. It’s the ear for dynamics and keeping a tight hold on the listener that makes this band such a compelling prospect, and nowhere on this album is this more evident than Swim In The Blues. Not only does the track pretty much scrap anything close to hardcore until the very end, it comes across as a heavier version of the grungy emo put on the map by bands like Basement, with the rumbling guitars and Dench’s muffled, strung-out vocals. The entire track serves as a build-up to the expulsion of ire that rounds it off, but it’s consistently gripping in its masterful execution of tension that most bands simply can’t pull off.
That might as well be the tagline for Rough Hands on this album – most bands can’t pull this off. As easy as it would be to be yet another faceless hardcore band, Rough Hands have followed a much more adventurous path, and it’s paid off immensely. It’s no exaggeration to say that Let Me Win Your Hearts And Minds is one of the best hardcore albums released so far this year, a marauding, irascible beast that presents itself as something far more appealing than yet another no-name hardcore band. Where the underground scene is currently more overcrowded than it should be, this album sees Rough Hands barging down the door and elbowing through the crowd for a place for themselves. And honestly, there couldn’t be a stronger inclusion.
For fans of: Employed To Serve, Brutality Will Prevail, The Dillinger Escape Plan
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Let Me Win Your Hearts And Minds’ by Rough Hands is released on 5th August on Dog Knights Productions.