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The best hardcore LP of the nineties? - 93%

robotiq, August 19th, 2020

Hardcore is not a type of music. It is a tapestry of interconnected micro-scenes, bound in a mishmash of conflicting, contradictory rules and ethics. Sometimes it encompasses a collective spirit, a vague notion of 'scene unity'. Elsewhere it espouses individualism and personal freedom. Does this make it any different to metal? Perhaps only in relation to my first sentence, because metal is a type of music. The two genres probably share more similarities than differences and have crossed over many times. One of my favourite metal/hardcore hybrids is Rorschach's "Protestant", a record that opened the floodgates for a new type of scratchy, angular, metallic hardcore that bloomed in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Rorschach began as a dark, heavy hardcore band that sounded like a grittier version of early Prong. They evolved to become more abrasive and experimental over a couple of transitional seven-inches. Their second album "Protestant" marks the end of that journey. I started exploring hardcore a few years after this was released, through bands like Deadguy, Kiss it Goodbye and Converge. I liked these bands at the time because they were extreme and heavy enough but sounded different to any metal I had heard. Little did I know that "Protestant" was the common denominator for them all, and many more besides. I concluded that Rorschach rendered most imitators irrelevant, except for a handful of bands who pushed their sound even further (Acme, Carol, Union of Uranus, etc).

Albums like "Protestant" do not appear by accident. This is a product of extensive, varied influences. Rorschach were interested in progressive rock (covering King Crimson on a previous seven-inch). They drew inspiration from Die Kreuzen and presumably Voivod by extension. There are elements of dark, malevolent bands across the spectrum of angry, guitar-based music. I could cite Swans, Amebix, Negative Approach ("Evacuate"), The Melvins and Slayer for starters. There may also be comparisons with the first Nirvana album and even with extreme avant-garde jazz (such as Last Exit). Perhaps this is a stretch, but not by much. The music on "Protestant" is a collage of torsion and dissonance, with utter disdain for melody. No band imitating Rorschach could achieve this result without such varied influences. This record might sound superficially similar to many others, but this is ground zero.

Musically, Rorschach brought hardcore to breaking point. The Die Kreuzen and Voivod influences are taken to iconoclastic extremes (e.g., "Shanks"). Every riff is memorable, and the music is cohesive despite its angularity. Take a song like "Skin Culture" for example, there is a section of clean guitar in the middle that morphs into a nightmarish ooze, while a near-virtuoso bass wanders beneath. The drumming of Andrew Gormley is stunning, almost Lombardo-esque in places. He can bring the music to chaos with ease (e.g., "Drawn and Quartered"), he can play super-fast hardcore beats ("Raw Nerve"), he always sounds organic and inexorable. The guitarists fire shrapnel-shaped riffs over the top of the rhythm section, and Charles Maggio's shrieking takes it beyond the pale. Every element of this would soon become commonplace in hardcore.

This record is monolithic and brilliant. Each of the countless riff transitions means something. Each is an excuse for a violent, disquieting moment, best shown in the introspective and furious closer ("Ornaments"). "Protestant" is an album for anyone who dismisses hardcore as simplistic, limited, or predictable. I will never tire of this record. It will always throw me a new riff or idea that I have never noticed before. Rorschach are mandatory listening for adventurous metal fans, particularly those who gravitate towards weird, outsider bands (Demilich, Master's Hammer, Ved Buens Ende). If you only hear five hardcore records in your lifetime, make this one of them.