On 2021’s Something To Remember Me By, To Kill Achilles really didn’t feel like a band worth investing in. Anything they were doing on that album could be pinpointed and re-attributed to the slew of emotional hardcore bands with already-high profiles, something which that style in particular can make exceptionally difficult to get away from. Obviously there’s going to be overlap in sonics and themes, but if you’re not pushing yourself to point of immolation to get your particular variant of it across, you’re getting lost in the shuffle. The gold standard is still Touché Amoré’s Stage Four for reaching that upper limit of intensity; To Kill Achilles, meanwhile, had enough to get by without breaking from the middle of the pack.
So when it comes to Recovery, it can be a bit of a blindsiding case. Yes, To Kill Achilles are generally in the same musical ballpark, but the degree to which they’ve cranked this up makes for a pretty stunning about-face. With their own standards unquestionably raised, Recovery feels like a proper swing for To Kill Achilles to leave their mark for good. Maybe it’s a bit premature to make comparisons to Casey, as far as fan-favourite potential coming from unceasingly ripping themselves bare, but it also would’ve been unthinkable just a couple of years ago. When it’s in the conversation now, that’s a Herculean effort made unto itself.
Though, to crack the illusion somewhat, it’s not much to do with the actual sound. There are new bits added and they hit more than they miss, but each detour rings as a singular moment of trying something new, as opposed to To Kill Achilles going for full incorporation. It’s why it’s not really a big deal that The Cave doesn’t land at all, in what’s verging on a tropical house thrum that’s miles away from a single other sound here. Everything else, on the other hand, makes for a pretty pleasant inclusion. …And I’m An Addict kicks the album off with a sawing, Beartooth-esque choppiness that’s as ear-grabbing as opening salvos come; on the other end of things, the closing title track picks up even more tremendous size when erupting into a blast of saxophone.
In between, it’s all what you’d really expect. The post-hardcore and emotional hardcore wheels are turning with expected regularity, though not in a way that’s rote or exceedingly routine either. Maybe it’s because there is some more firepower elsewhere that has a residual effect here, but Recovery’s inherently towering shadow that it casts still feels imposing. When a more defined chorus breaks through on Chemical Counterpart or Fifteen Years, the surge of melody is electrifying, just as when there’s greater restraint and loftiness on Blue and the title track. It can get relatively heavy too, albeit in a way that’s almost entirely down to a guitar tone that’s snarls and slices on the likes of No Love Is A Crime and Rats.
But the real meat of Recovery has been danced around long enough, which is, of course, the writing. It’s what albums like this live and breathe, and it’s so refreshing to say that To Kill Achilles have knocked it out of the park here. What felt confined to genre ideals last time has been utterly pulverised now, opting for more explicitly personal fare tied to a central concept of recovering and breaking out of damaging, defeating cycles. And there’s a lot touched upon here, in Mark Tindal’s evisceration of vices and painful memories relayed in such frank, plainspoken terms. He airs out his own substance issues on …And I’m An Addict and severs ties with abusive relationships on When The Lights Go Off and No Love Is A Crime, and even strives to come to terms with the death of a close friend and his unborn child on Living In A Memory and Blue respectively. But it’s also the purest form of catharsis that finds worth in the expulsion when it comes to moving forward. He realises personal growth and celebrates his own achievements on Fifteen Years, and finds it all culminating in a title track that’s borderline stream of consciousness in its appreciation for the capacity that humans have for healing and self-love—“If my life’s just an oil painting / I’ll learn to love all the scratches on my canvas”. (Just try and ignore how Ghost Town ends up conflating living in the moment outside of social media fakery with an infuriatingly hackneyed ‘phone bad’ viewpoint.)
It goes without saying that it’s all sold excellently too, a feature that was always a high point of To Kill Achilles even at their least impressive. As far as voices go for this kind of hardcore, Tindal’s is pretty much perfect, with all the cracks and wavers left in that do just as much for impact as how wrenched-out and raw it all sounds. The low, again, comes on The Cave, in which some notable over-emoting is employed to seemingly fill in the space on a more minimal composition, which leaves Tindal’s voice curving and contorting in some fairly awkward ways. It’s the only point where that’s an issue though, thankfully; the resolve is far harder to break, and that’s felt so often here.
It’s honestly a real shock that Recovery comes together as effectively as it does. Just two years ago, To Kill Achilles basically had their also-ran status confirmed upon first drop, and to rocket up the ranks in one fell swoop is a borderline marvel. All the while, they remain consistent with their own forged identity, now just with the extreme wherewithal to find that genre sweet spot and make some serious moves. It’s the kind of metamorphosis you’d never expect or even wish to hope for, but it makes it all the more satisfying when it comes to pass. Recovery might just be the biggest hardcore sucker-punch of 2023 so far, a feat that showers its creators in prestige heretofore unseen.
For fans of: Casey, Counterparts, La Dispute
‘Recovery’ by To Kill Achilles is released on 11th August on Arising Empire.
Words by Luke Nuttall