Young Widows Old Wounds

[Temporary Residence; 2008]

Styles: stoner metal, hardcore, rock
Others: Bear vs. Shark, Russian Circles, These Arms are Snakes, The Melvins

Most pretentious underground-rock historians argue that hardcore died in the ’80s with the rest of Washington D.C. Bands including punk legends Bad Brains, Black Flag, and Fugazi had either disbanded or taken a drastic style shift, and the D.I.Y. ethos the scene was built upon had all but been forgotten.

To some extent, they’re right. Go to your local Hot Topic and you’ll find the band t-shirt wall littered with either “metalcore” (The Bled, Every Time I Die, Chiodos) or “christcore” (Underoath, Norma Jean, As I Lay Dying). In these circles, popularity and marketability are defined by the lowest doom screams, the most squealed pitch-harmonics, and the fastest blast-beats possible. The lyrical subject matter is actually quite close to gangsta rap -- a bit of misogyny, a touch of graphic violence, and a whole lot of machismo. It’s a similar scene that parodies itself time and time again without any sense of remorse.

But it’s within this sort of backdrop that makes Louisville, Kentucky’s Young Widows so much fun to listen to. Old Wounds, the group's second album, is quite refreshing in that they have seemingly aimed to craft an experimental rock album instead of a generic hardcore album. Opener “Took a Turn” is a perfect example, beginning with a sludgy distorted bass line that sounds a little more Death From Above 1979 on junk than it does Every Time I Die on uppers. The guitar is palm-muted and groovy, not loud and tuned down to a pitch below normal human-hearing capacity. And, for once, the drums don’t need a double-bass drum roll to sound aggressive. When the guitar does play, it emphasizes choruses and texture instead of technique, and the vocals are chanted, not overbearingly screamed.

The fourth track, “The Guitar,” is all about atmosphere -- think a normal rock tempo with a muted guitar for the low-end with tongue-in-cheek apocryphal lyrics ("Heard the sounds way back when they were born/ Saw the gods before they knew they were gods/ Danced with dogs and felt the freedom of filth/ Got addicted at an early age"). It doesn't have to be loud, it doesn’t have to be angry, and it doesn’t have to be “hard,” per se. At this point, it’s obvious that Young Widows have established a mix of styles to call their own.

But the album isn't perfect. “The Heat is Here” sounds like Nirvana mixed with Tool -- a proven combination, but it makes you wonder what the band would sound like if they stepped more overtly out of their musical boundaries. And although a large part of the album's success hinges on its unapologetic simplicity, if this band really wants to break the mold, they could benefit from variety. Hardcore is a style of music that especially encourages interpretation; Young Widows have one interpretation down to a routine, but changing perspectives could take the band from good to jaw-dropping.

Old Wounds is definitely not an album for everyone, but for someone who wants both a taste of heavy rock and is sick of Mastodon being one of the only “indie-acceptable” metal bands to listen to, give it a try. As I Lay Dying are proof that William Faulkner wants humanity to suffer.

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