As ever, the discussion surrounding hype is one that comes with many caveats, chief among them being that, if it’s hype started out of mainstream necessity to hunt for another crossover smash, it won’t last. When it comes from natural groundswell, however, that can be a different story, and in a genre like hardcore that tends to value its bands as more than just commodities and influencer fodder, the results can lead to cult heroes rising. Just look at the likes of Code Orange, Employed To Serve or Oathbreaker, all of whom have found themselves built up off the back of great album releases to a point to true greatness within their scene. Therefore, it’s hardly a surprise that Ithaca currently find themselves in the same position; the comparisons to all of those bands can definitely be justified, but this is also a band who’ve been gaining buzz as an incendiary presence in their own right off the back of a 2015 EP and touring with all the right names, and debut full-length The Language Of Injury is already set to cap off an already astounding career with its biggest achievement to date.
That said, it’s not like the odds were ever stacked against Ithaca – they’re signed to Holy Roar for a start, which has proven to be practically a guaranteed seal of quality – and the fact that The Language Of Injury is simply predictably great rather than surprisingly so is probably the most disappointing thing about it. Other than that, Ithaca have lived up to virtually every superlative and loaded declarative that’s been thrown their way, offering up another helping of the intelligent, angular hardcore that’s proven so popular recently, but – and maybe more so than others – removing every bit of fat for an exceptionally tight listen. Only one track crosses the four minute mark with most others cutting off rather significantly below, but it’s a credit to the level of constructive nous this band possess that they’re able to pack such a density into these progressions that remains fulfilling, like in the low-hanging bass and shards of squealing guitar on Impulse Crush or the cavernous, clattering drums on CLSR.. There’s an explosiveness and an unhinged quality to it all, but it’s all controlled enough to never fly completely off the handle, and with Djamila Azzouz delivering the sort of visceral and ravenous vocal performance that’s always an easy sell in hardcore of any stripe, Ithaca really do touch upon something truly great as far as intent and execution go.
If that was all, it would be plenty, but The Language Of Injury feels like a bigger release overall, in that it moves past the establishing conventions of a debut and into the realms of Ithaca becoming a true force to be reckoned with in their own right. A big part of that is this album’s use of modulation, and the efficiency with which it’s used in such a relatively small space; of course it’s good for a hardcore album to rage when it wants to, but interspersing that with moments of clarity like the gentle, floating interlude of Secretspace or the frankly gorgeous (no translation). Even beyond that, the triumphant guitar swelling and merging with the thunderous percussion on Gilt is the sort of solid-gold melodic moment that the vast majority of bands will never hit on their first time around, and only highlights once again the wealth of creativity and musical technicality that Ithaca already have at their disposal. Even if the final results aren’t quite perfect just yet – as sharp as the production is throughout, the vocals can feel a bit too drowned out occasionally to hit with full force – but it’s pretty much as close as any band can reasonably be expected to come, and Ithaca continue to build and develop their ideas marvellously.
And that’s ultimately why Ithaca will rightfully earn their place among hardcore’s greatest success stories of the last few years. They’re just as inventive and ridiculously proficient at their craft, but The Language Of Injury’s no-nonsense approach to these aspects is what gives it a slight but crucial edge. There’s no time wasted here whatsoever, and while of course it’ll be interesting to see what more Ithaca can conjure up on future releases, this feels like a near-perfect amount for a debut, especially for how impressively and unwaveringly concise it is. That alone could be enough to turn plenty towards Ithaca and let that greatness flourish; there’s still plenty of time in 2019, and if all goes well, this could be one of the year’s biggest success stories.
For fans of: Employed To Serve, Svalbard, Vales
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘The Language Of Injury’ by Ithaca is released on 1st February on Holy Roar Records.