ALBUM REVIEW: Lionheart – ‘Welcome To The West Coast III’

Artwork for Lionheart’s ‘Welcome To The West Coast III’ - the back of a man’s bald head covered in tattoos. There is a pair of women’s hands grabbing the head.

So 2022 has been a pretty stellar year for hardcore. Pretty much wherever you turn, there’s been imaginative, forward-thinking fare pushing the genre in notably more diverse and explorative directions. Lionheart, meanwhile, are doing none of those things, though that doesn’t mean they’re incapable of stepping up. Quite the contrary, actually; in their world of street-level, boot-to-the-jaw metallic hardcore, it’s basically a necessity to bring your A-game, lest you become swallowed up by the vast seas of bands looking to stake their claim as king of the streets.

Fortunately for Lionheart, they’ve got experience on their side. They’ve never been the biggest of these bands but they know what they’re doing all the same, and channelling together that brusque know-how and a penchant for a real knockout groove comes Welcome To The West Coast III. Basically from the jump on The Trilogy Intro, they make that evident, between the bread-and-butter hardcore package of a fat low end that seldom lets up on the punishment and Rob Watson’s guttural shouts. It’s pure, rippling power all the time; Lionheart aren’t interested in diversifying or intricately incising, not when they don’t have to.

That does mean that Welcome To The West Coast III is rather one-note, though it’s not like anyone taking the leap into it cares. Lionheart are the sort of band doling out hardcore’s equivalent of comfort food in their sound, the sort of band that can easily be carried by burly gang shouts on Hell On Earth or Cold Water Farewell, and have that be enough. And honestly, it kind of is, in how the momentum keeps on rolling by at unstoppable velocity. This feels as remarkably tight as it is in actuality, falling below half-an-hour with nary a second of that wasted.

It’s the benefit of Lionheart sticking to fervently to their strengths, while also being canny enough to know not to overextend. That is to say, they aren’t lyrical masterminds or likely to delve into the minutiae of their themes, but it’s not laborious to get through either. It helps that there’s an inherent tenacity that’s often compelling, in dealing with the violence and poverty around them, and having to propagate said violence simply as a means of survival. Compared to a band like King 810 whose excruciating detail around the same subjects primes itself for diminishing returns, Lionheart’s hard-and-fast approach is far more efficient and workable. What’s more, the core of humanity isn’t stifled by the tough guy pose, shown in the street love story of Bonnie & Clyde ‘05, and the closer Exit Wounds where Watson ponders the effects of a dangerous environment and the looming threat of his own passing on his children.

It’s not a necessary boon but it’s a good one to have, if only to give Lionheart some flavour that can be sometimes missing here. Even on this very album, they’re deeply affixed to metallic hardcore’s regular tenets, but not to where they’re stymied by it. It’s pretty much the complete opposite, when Lionheart themselves aren’t lacking for power or propulsion, and bringing on guests like Jamey Jasta and Ice-T serves as a nice bit of additional spice overall. Again, even when those guest performers are deeply in their element, they all make for an easy transferral of resources that just works (plus, more Ice-T is always a good thing).

That’s all within the knowledge that the case for Welcome To The West Coast III being among the year’s best is basically nonexistent. In terms of where hardcore is going, Lionheart just don’t have the means to compete with the absolute best on the most macro genre level. But at the same time, they’re exceptionally good at what they do, and a thick, fast cranking up of brutality is rarely a bad thing, if only to really zero in on the genre’s core ideals. And without a single significant wobble on the tracklist and a hunger that’s continuously raging on, that half-hour mosh sesh could be satisfied by far worse than what Lionheart have to offer.

For fans of: Hatebreed, Terror, Madball

‘Welcome To The West Coast III’ by Lionheart is released on 9th December on Arising Empire.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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