ALBUM REVIEW: ‘How Well Do You Really Know Yourself?’ by GroundCulture

It’s become quite common within genres like hardcore to predict the bands who’ll go on to make bigger waves within the scene, and thus it can be said with a certain amount of confidence that GroundCulture feel as though they’re moving a lot faster than anticipated. Their 2018 debut EP was definitely good as far as riff-heavy hardcore that could’ve been fashioned into something more of their own with a bit more time and seasoning, but when in just under two years, they’ve signed to Hopeless and are already at the eve of their debut full-length being released, the notion of a band being fast-tracked to effectively slot them into their perceived role before they might be ready is slightly worrying. Granted, as far as these sorts of moves go, GroundCulture’s is easily among the least cynical-feeling, but it’s not a practice that can be immediately dismissed on those grounds, especially given some of the shovelware that the industry machine has pushed directly to the fore in recent years. Even if GroundCulture have already proven they’re far more than that on just their one EP, that level of scrutiny still feels rather necessary when going into How Well Do You Really Know Yourself?.

And when this does feel overall like a more compromised listen than where GroundCulture were originally mapping themselves out to go, it can be disheartening to see how much of an effect the behind-the-scenes machinations have had. That’s not to write off How Well… by any means though; there’s still a level of control that shows that GroundCulture haven’t completely bent themselves around hitting predetermined targets, and more so than most, their more expansive hardcore affectations have been repurposed more so than thrown away completely. It’s enough to salvage the album on the whole and still make a good listen, but the impression that GroundCulture are holding their best back looms heavily, particularly when hitting those heights was what got them here in the first place.

The differences are pretty noticeable throughout as well, mainly in how GroundCulture’s sound has shifted to a more openly anthemic, post-hardcore-adjacent side of hardcore that’s got more in common with Stick To Your Guns or later-period While She Sleeps. It doesn’t feel as heavy or nailed down in its low end this time around, which is largely a result of production which now has the room to come across a bit more expensive and sand the rougher edges down accordingly. But as alluded towards area, there’s still an element of GroundCulture digging their heels in here and actually managing to keep a sense of rawness to them even among the overhaul; it’s not the tart, almost annoying present synth beeps of Dream Like A Child or the acoustic trailing off of closer 1974 set the standard here. Instead, there’s still weight placed on surging power from the likes of RealEyes and Blue Minds that have a modern slant without being totally overworked, and the raggedness in Roy Watson’s vocals serve as a rather thorough connection to a grassroots beginning that, happily, GroundCulture still seem willing to hold on to. It makes sense for it to be a pretty perfect fit for the homegrown scene that they haven’t totally transcended yet then, even if that can be spun to mean that they’re yet to develop an individual identity of their own to the point where that can be carried across an entire album.

Because, for as ostensibly solid as GroundCulture are, How Well… still feels like the product of a band thrown in at the deep end while still trying to find their feet and cultivate a definitive image of who they are. That’s possibly why they fit in so well here; whereas they previously had a meatier sound and production style to lean away from cleaner, melodic hardcore, here, they’re embracing it, and that isn’t the best fit for them. They’re capable of tapping into more visceral territory than fixating on the big, populist anthems as is the case here, and even then, they can do that well. There’s more of a snarl in Watson’s that gives even his cleaner singing a grimier edge that could be put to good use, and where the likes of Trauma Can Teach or Unbreakable could certainly feel maudlin in the hands of lesser bands, there’s a tenacity conveyed through GroundCulture’s application of it that gives a sentiment of persevering through past hardships and keep moving forward hit with more force and reality than it would with more squeaky-clean platitudes. They’ve got the foundations of a great hardcore band regardless of the direction they want to bend that in, but How Well… does appear to play things unnecessarily safe. It’s less of a progression and more doubling down on the fact that they’re still relatively new and honing their ideas by toying with different sources, something that’s ultimately preventing GroundCulture from taking the huge steps forward they’re capable of.

And even then, How Well… is far from a bad album; as far as modern melodic hardcore goes, GroundCulture feel comfortable in this lane, and with the benefit of a sturdier backing force behind them, they’re able to execute a bigger vision with little hassle. But that comfort is dangerously close to complacency, and that could be a problem if it continues to drift in that direction. Right now, the benefit of this being a debut is what’s the crucial buoying factor on this album, with a bit more wiggle room where holding to that standard is a bit more acceptable. But at the rate that GroundCulture are moving, they seem to be burning through that opportunity rather fast, to where next time they need to get down something more concretely their own. For now, this is solid, but GroundCulture are perfectly capable of doing more than that, and the daring to show that off is what’s ultimately going to keep their star rising.

6/10

For fans of: While She Sleeps, Stick To Your Guns, Beartooth
Words by Luke Nuttall

‘How Well Do You Really Know Yourself?’ by GroundCulture is released on 1st May on Hopeless Records.

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