ALBUM REVIEW: Ithaca – ‘They Fear Us’

An image of Ithaca. Djamila Azzouz is sitting on a wicker chair in the middle of the frame, with plants on both sides and her bandmates in a corner each.

The rise and rise of Ithaca isn’t exactly an unprecedented one, if we’re being honest. That doesn’t negate its impressiveness, and to have 2019’s The Language Of Injury barge down the hardcore door for them felt justified, to where it’s more a statement on how utterly insane the bar for heavy music has been lately than a criticism on Ithaca themselves. Make no mistake, they came out swinging with a terrific debut full-length, but the question of whether that alone could keep them in such a stacked upper echelon is an open one. At least, it was before They Fear Us; now it’s not even up for debate. The degree to which Ithaca have topped themselves is frankly staggering, not only within their own lane of hardcore but branching out into something more lush and colourful, without totally ripping up the groundwork they previously established. For an album extolling the band’s own fearlessness and diversity within a scene and industry constantly trying to beat it back, it’s no wonder They Fear Us is so freed in execution. You find that in the final run of songs most of all—the towering, dynamic Flourescent pulling sizably from blackgaze and its melodic rigour; the ever-morphing You Should Have Gone Back that weaves a bluesy guitar rip among pulse-pounding hardcore; and the glittering alt-rock of Hold, Be Held, with the glassy production and Djamila Azzouz’s clean singing that sounds utterly gorgeous against this sound. Just on the whole, she is amazing throughout, the exact sort of chameleonic vocalist that feeds so perfectly into this era of Ithaca. It’s on a song like Camera Eats First that provides a good look at her full range, as the shredding screams dissipate into shoegaze-style coos and alt-metal bluster in what’s far grander than their mere hardcore roots.

Even when They Fear Us does keep itself more within hardcore though, there’s something here that pushes it over the top constantly. Maybe it’s how dynamic and layered the production is, where even among the harsher edges of Will Sweet and Sam Chetan-Welsh’s guitars, there are elements of heat and organic samples that always burrow up further each time. Or maybe it’s the instrumentation itself, in how even the more rigid, mathcore-adjacent edges always have some give for something more creative, without losing sight of their own gnashing power like on the title track. It’s a combination of both ends and plenty more that make They Fear Us such a thrill, and Ithaca carry themselves among it like true superstars through and through. There’s not a dud to be found, nor is there really a loose end that doesn’t feel sufficiently capitalised on made to sound either as slicing or ornate as necessary. On top of all of that, it just feels cool and fresh, bringing together so many sources and directions into a hardcore opus that’s simultaneously kaleidoscopic and unwaveringly focused. The nine tracks here absolutely fly by, stuffing themselves with their plentiful flickers of inspiration to maximise efficiency even further. It’s rare to find hardcore bands willing to condense their impulses this much—for some reason, it’s still favourable to have an album be overly long and prematurely tail off—but They Fear Us is definitively its own beast. It’s locomotive and unpredictable, and unflinchingly sure-footed in every decision it makes. That’s ultimately the kicker that sees Ithaca joining in among this generation of hardcore flag-bearers, if not superseding them; this is a peak that it’ll take some monstrous effort to assail, because Ithaca are rocketing up and burning at nova brightness. Hardcore album of the year? Why limit it to that, when it’s currently one of the best, full stop?

For fans of: Rolo Tomassi, Deftones, Brutus

‘They Fear Us’ by Ithaca is released on 29th July on Hassle Records.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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