The relationship between experimentation and quality in hardcore can often be presented as a distinct U-curve, perhaps more so than the majority of other genres. It’s always nice to see a band fully going off on their own and doing completely their own thing that, particularly in recent times, has a tendency to be truly great, but the same can also be true of the opposite. There’s been plenty to like about bands who double down on the more primal, bludgeoning side of hardcore that mightn’t be anywhere near as inspired, but pushing far enough in that direction lets the thrills hit with so much more vigour and volatility. The only issue is that choosing that route for a sound that is admittedly quite basic can be dicey when that direction isn’t give the right amount of focus and attention, and it can be a pitfall that’s incredibly easy to fall into when that heaviness isn’t at a stage that’s huge enough to make a difference.
And thus, that comes around to Boston’s Great American Ghost, a band already faced with some big shoes to fill as far as their hometown hardcore lineage goes, but also have the wall of low-end hardcore’s limitations to scale at the same time, something which a good number of their peers and predecessors have outright failed to do. Of course, now being three albums deep is enough on its own to suggest that Great American Ghost are doing something right already, but the extent of that set by Power Through Terror is a different animal entirely. Not only is this easily the most white-knuckle pure hardcore album released this year, but this feels like something of a standard-setter in its own right, slicing through the chaff to show how excellent hardcore without the trimmings can still be. Because yes, this is a great album, and every reason why is kept as deliberate as possible.
That might sound like something of a slight in itself when spun to represent an album lacking in dimension or tactful nuance, but Power Through Terror uses those qualities to its advantage if it succumbs to them at all. The bloody-mindedness of it all is impressive right off the bat, keeping every slobberknocker assault as tight and controlled as humanly possible, and that precision proves especially imperative when working with the production as excellently as it does. Put simply, this is exactly as feral and destructive as hardcore of this stripe should sound, never toning itself down unnecessarily and playing with a metallic side that, when fully embraced by the likes of the title track and its unkempt razorblade edges, gives Great American Ghost a real boost against the competition in the stakes of sheer presence alone. It also helps that the instrumentation is absolutely top-drawer for this sort of hardcore, not just in guitar work that crashes down with the same meteoric force that allows a band like Stray From The Path to sound as heavy as they do, but also in immaculately sharp drumming and a bass presence that always keeps things moving at a decent clip. Topping is all off is Ethan Harrison, whose terse, venomous shrieks might seem rather commonplace within hardcore, but has the sort of raging, overflowing aggression that’s even more devastating when turned up to the same gauge-breaking level as everything else on offer.
And if there was one string to Great American Ghost’s bow that’s worth singling out above everything else, it’d be that aggression. Again, it’s hardly new to say about hardcore, but the level of misanthropy and unfettered, unbridled disdain for everything that modern life calls its own feels a lot stronger and more rabid here. Having a mosh call like “Reality is pain / Hope is a plague” on Prison Of Hate is a pretty neat summation of Great American Ghost’s entire ethos, and when that’s built on by commodified viciousness and distrust on Altar Of Snakes and Scorched Earth and the hatred of a world designed to break down the human spirit on Socialized Animals, there’s a tangible angle to the righteousness that spews out of every single word. It’s always delivered with just the right vein-bulging intensity too, always pushing its message front and centre but never coming across as performative or disingenuous, as Great American Ghost embark on their rampage without so much as breaking a sweat.
Thus, Power Through Terror hits like a train in the most satisfying and impactful way possible, rarely letting up and showing exactly what’s capable within a shade of a genre that’s often seen as its more basic form. Make no mistake, being basic is still arguably the case here, but that’s not a synonym for boring or uninspired with this album, as Great American Ghost vault over anything they’ve done in the past to land in spitting distance from the pantheon of modern hardcore greats. Those crucial next steps to get there could be a very real possibility should Power Through Fear catch on, and it would be great if it actually did; this is hardcore that deserves to be put in the spotlight, if only to see how Great American Ghost will inevitably thrive even more.
For fans of: Knocked Loose, Sanction, Jesus Piece
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Power Through Terror’ by Great American Ghost is released on 14th February on eOne Music.