Label: Hotfoot Records
Bandcamp stream: Link
On their Facebook page, Indiana’s Conquerors final entry in their list of influences is “[their] ex girlfriends.” It’s a comment that, in some ways, tells you a lot about the style of hardcore they play and whether you’ll get on board with it or not, as does their self-description as “alternative hardcore”. It’s a statement that is almost asking to be mocked, but if you’re a big enough person to admit that things can get you down, and if you’ve an appreciation for hardcore that isn’t afraid to stray into emotional, metalcore waters, then Hand In The Clouds has a lot to offer.
All of the above should be clear after even a few moments of heavy yet melodic opener “Dark Days.” Vocalist Michael Sugars possesses a powerful bark, strong and with his lyrics clear, and behind him the band effortlessly move between the different aspects that characterise modern hardcore. There’s some great melodic guitar leads and powerful riffs, strong drumming that knows when to be flashy with fills and when to keep things simple and anchored, whilst the bass is wonderfully heavy, adding real punch to proceedings. Even when the band move into some typical metalcore chuggery and one-note riffs, it doesn’t come across as being done “because that’s what bands do”, but because it fits the song in question. Such sections are normally what kill my interest or enjoyment in a lot of modern hardcore records, but on Hand In The Clouds, they’re some of my favourite moments, possessing all the power and strength most other bands fall short of.
There’s also an ambition on display at points that is lacking in so many of their contemporaries. Third track “Prizefighter” begins with an almost old-school bass intro and cymbal count before launching in to a riff that is sure to absolutely slay when played live, before focus is shifted twice very quickly a few moments later from a heavy verse into a very melodic bridge, back into a staccato verse. The song continues to twist and turn, yet it never feels forced or as if the band are trying to impress, and when a clean guitar melody over a sparse rhythm section takes the lead during the third minute creating a sense of openness, it all feels completely natural, as it does when things get heavy again as the song builds to the climax, only to end on a softer, subtle note. It’s hugely impressive, and showcases a band with a lot of talent.
The final two tracks feature guest spots, and more impressive moments. Max from Corpus Christi guests on “End Cycle”, which features a top-tier breakdown section around the 1:15 mark, and whilst the song contains some of the music furious music on the record, it slows things down for the ending. Meanwhile, final track “Neck Deep” features a trio of guest spots (Danny Adams, Aaron Rice, Matt Buell), but is where I feel the band’s ambition gets the better of them. The closing section doesn’t hit the emotional heights it aims for, being perhaps a bit too obvious in its intent, not taking long enough to properly establish the mood and build itself up.
As I’ve written elsewhere, I’m generally not a fan of metalcore and bands so clearly influenced by that style, but something about Conquerors has hit home for me. Hand In The Clouds is a very promising record, though I can’t help but feel that the band need a little more practice at controlling their ambition; whilst some songs such as “Prizefighter” are superb, other moments feel like they could do with a little more refinement. Even so, if I’ve enjoyed it over multiple listens, then I’ve no doubt that people more in to the style than I will too, and that Conquerors’ next record will be even better.