It feels like an eternity since we’ve been graced with the arrival of a brand new album from hardcore heavyweights Harms Way, and that’s because it has been an eternity. The band’s monstrous previous effort Posthuman, which was quickly deemed by listeners as some of their best material to date, came out in February of 2018, just over five and a half years ago. Year after year, Harms Way has remained near the top of my personal most anticipated albums of the year, and yet, every year we were left without a new LP. However, now five years on, the drought has finally been lifted, and the arrival of the band’s fifth album, Common Suffering, is imminent. So, herein lies the question; how will Harms Way fair against the insurmountable expectations now that the incredible Posthuman is five years in the past? Well, if this album doesn’t far exceed the expectations of every listener, then I’d say they need to invest in a brand new set of ears.
Alright, I’ll say it; Common Suffering is the best Harms Way album. This record is abrasively unrelenting, punishing in every sense of the word, and unapologetically outside-of-the-box. Every facet, from the riffs, to the songwriting, to the boisterous production of Will Yip, is executed flawlessly. There isn’t a single second of wasted space; every measure is packed tightly with fire and brimstone. Listening to Common Suffering for the first time feels like being locked inside of a box full of lit dynamite. There is a blazing energy that pulsates at every corner of this record, never allowing you a second to breathe—and it’s fucking awesome.
The album opens with the tight, intense riff-fest that is Silent Wolf, which immediately punches you straight in the gut with some of the catchiest guitar work Harms Way have ever produced. This track was the album’s lead single for good reason; it’s an instant earworm that slowly ingrains itself into the back of your brain, leaving you tapping that chug pattern on every flat surface your fingers can locate.
Things don’t slow down from there, either. Denial serves as one of the best cuts from the album, showcasing fuzz-laden, overblown guitar chugs and pounding drum work that will leave you guessing how many drum sticks were harmed in the process of recording. The drumming on this track is particularly impressive, featuring fills and patterns that feel almost too good for a hardcore album. Hollow Cry is a bit less straightforward, almost carrying a doom-metal-esque tinge in sections. The wailing siren guitar leads and roomy open strums are almost reminiscent of some of The Acacia Strain’s doomier cuts, however, don’t get it twisted; this is still very much a hardcore song, with its balls-heavy chorus and gargantuan breakdown finale.
It’s from here that we enter the best three-song stretch that Harms Way has ever had on an album. Devour was a heavy hitter as a single, and is even more enormous in the context of the album. Showcasing fiery, steamrolling guitar licks, and a break-neck pacing, it’s easy to see why this song has been a popular pick for best single. Undertow, which features doom-metal heavy-hitters King Woman, switches up the pacing of Common Suffering at just the right moment. This song swaps fight riffs and breakdowns for ominous, lingering swells and booming drum fills, all culminating into a gargantuan finale that feels a bit more familiar for the band. The song’s title is fitting, as the tone of the track truly does make you feel like you are helplessly treading water in open ocean, miles from the safety of the shoreline. However, what follows is easily Harms Way’s best song to date, with the crushing Heaven’s Call. This track in particular is absolute hardcore perfection, featuring just about everything you could want in a Harms Way song. This cut showcases some of the heaviest riffs on the entire record, an addictive, surging chorus section that repeats just enough times to keep you satisfied, and an ending, cacophonous breakdown section that is nothing short of absolute debauchery, being easily the single hardest hitting moment on the entire record. No doubt, Heaven’s Call will be one of my favorite songs of all of 2023.
What is especially brilliant about Common Suffering is its willingness to be more than just a run-of-the-mill metalcore-leaning hardcore record, with Harms Way taking clear risks throughout, stepping into seemingly uncomfortable waters at times; and yet, it all works. Songs such as the aforementioned Undertow, the booming, bass groove-laden Terrorizer, and the drone-y, almost sorrowful Wanderer all stand as clear examples that Harms Way aren’t afraid to stand out from the pack, showcasing a unique blend of sounds that you just won’t find elsewhere in the genre.
Terrorizer in particular is an incredibly well-written and well-produced track that easily stands up as one of the band’s best ‘weirder’ songs, if not the single best. The clipping baritone synths in the song’s verses seamlessly intertwine with the ugly, distorted, in-your-face bass grooves that carry that song to its slow burn breakdown conclusion. Every time I listen to this song, I find something new to admire hidden in the buzzing soundscape that leaves you feeling like you are being swarmed by a cloud of angry wasps.
This brings me to my next massive highlight of Common Suffering, which is the album’s absolutely masterful production, straight from the laboratory of the critically-acclaimed Will Yip. This album is methodically spread out in such a way where you can clearly hear each and every instrument in the mix, and they all sound fantastic in both tone and production quality. The production style is also a breath of fresh air in an era of overly-polished, quiet mixes; feeling significantly more raw, and much louder than recent efforts by some of the band’s peers. Will Yip doesn’t step into the world of heavy music as often as other producers, but it’s always a blessing when he does. Yip also produced Code Orange’s massive 2017 LP Forever, which Common Suffering shares a lot of similar qualities to. It seems that Yip is rather selective in which heavy albums he takes on, as whenever he does produce a heavier record, it’s always a great one; and this album is no different.
Another quality which deserves mentioning is the album’s composition and flow, which couldn’t have been executed any better. The record is fast and heavy in all of the places where it needs to be, but also takes a moment to breathe and change the pace when needed, always keeping the listener on their toes. Just when you’re getting used to the Denials and Cyanides, the band throws you something unexpected and pleasantly surprising, never lingering in the same spot for too long of overstaying any welcomes. The tracklisting is perfectly crafted to keep you hooked from the opening chugs of Silent Wolf to the ending swells of Wanderer, twisting and turning at just the right moments.
Common Suffering is yet another truly great album by Harms Way, and serves as one of the better albums to come out of the hardcore scene in the past few years. Not only did Harms Way meet the expectations following a monumentally good previous record; they exceeded them in every way, somehow managing to improve upon a sound that was already golden. This album takes every factor of the band that you love and turns it up to one hundred, firing on every cylinder possible. I truly believe this to be the band’s best work to date.
For fans of: Code Orange, Incendiary, Jesus Piece
‘Common Suffering’ by Harms Way is released on 29th September on Metal Blade Records.
Words by Hunter Hewgley