It’s become shorthand to refer to Philadelphia grind collective HIRS as “transgender” grindcore, which can scan as terribly reductive, defining the group by the identities of its members over its sonics. And yet, with HIRS’ latest release, almost certainly their most effective to date, it’s almost appropriate, given their utter conflation of form, politics, and identity — or, forget the word identity if you so desire, take positionality, idexicality, specificity, whatever — so long as you keep the materiality of transgender and transfemininity as starting points. Grindcore, like its parents in metal and hardcore punk, prefers to interact with the contemporary situation through small permutations and reworkings of presentation and representation rather than stylistic reinvention, and HIRS utilize this familiarity well.
Perhaps the continued relevance of punk- and metal-derived sonics, now so long past any cultural expiration date, is found in this intersection of sociocultural position with velocity. Here, take velocity not simply as a descriptor of tempo — though, of course, it most certainly is, especially with HIRS — but in the abstract and dictionary sense of a trajectory conflated with a speed. HIRS take the transfeminine experience and, with the rigid and proven effective tools of punk, sends it searing through a preloaded subculture and toward an indifferent or hateful macro-culture. “Transgender” remains deeply specific while moving toward the white-heat intensity of pure velocity, cutting into bodies and people and spaces with astonishing force, opening up potentials and crafting new affinities.
On to material specifics, YØU CAN’T KILL US is grindcore perfection along grindcore’s internal terms: incredibly fast, limber, restless, utterly pummeling, rabidly engaged, deeply affecting. Ever so slightly more interested in groove than their previous releases, it’s their best-primed for physical responses, providing breaths and pauses and moments sustained just long enough to push a body into rhythmic convulsions before shooting off in another direction. In many ways, it’s traditional, but done with vicious, shivering aplomb. In the middle of the roughly five-minute release, HIRS offer “YØU CAN’T KILL US,” as close to a dirge as they’ve ever released, which of course is nothing anywhere near a dirge but somewhere in the same atmospheric territory, the title line shrieked repeatedly, intelligibly, a statement of purpose deathly simple, projected through a sympathetic audience toward a bitter, worsening nation, toward, fuck it, something resembling a metaphysical ideal: “You can’t kill us.”
It’s followed by “A PRØMISE / T.D.Ø.V,” which begins with a shrieked a cappella:
When a transwoman staying alive
Is the hardest thing to do
I’m trying to keep a promise
If I can’t stay alive for myself
I’ll do it for you
It is, of course, crushing. It’s also — in its utter lack of nuance, in its directness, and in its incantatory qualities — the essence of their politics of intensity. It is, to the appropriate audience, undeniable. It’s a leap from the intense velocity of grindcore toward the intensities of grief, of fear, of threatened self. It’s a cut that reopens a wound, only to suture it by binding the singer to the audience. The song’s back half takes the slogan/album title “Trans Day of Revenge” from recently disbanded transgender hardcore group G.L.O.S.S. and carries it forward, the point of takeoff from the point that their incantation locates. Again, it’s deliriously straightforward, an assertion that staying alive is one form of revenge among many.
The last two minutes of the release indulge other grindcore signifiers, morbid humor, camp film samples, a brief panorama of a furious and insolent look at a hateful world by a livid transwoman. The whole thing, at just under six minutes, will take far less time to listen to than this review was to read, but in those six minutes, HIRS offer their community the best that punk and grindcore can provide in a political moment of crypto-fascist corporatism rapidly accelerating along lines pointing toward death and collapse, tearing through that landscape from the rabid clarity of their particular position, transfeminity as velocity, resistance, fury.