There are ways to describe Darker Handcraft using phrases like "time signature," "tone," "distortion," "cymbals" and "effects pedals," but this review uses none of them.
Here is my estimation of Darker Handcraft: It is the most meticulously designed piece in the Trap Them discography. Let us imagine the discography of metal as an arsenal, acre after acre of weaponry, from as far back as Black Sabbath to whomever is playing whatever is called hipster metal today. Ignore Metallica. Ignore Mastodon. Ignore Slayer. Ignore Neurosis. Ignore At the Gates, and the columns-if not entire halls-of their imitators.
What matters is that, now, past the rows of maces, repeating rifles and nerve gas, we are standing in the portion of the arsenal that looks like rubble. Here, we find Trap Them and their discography, their humble additions to the arsenal of metal.
Darker Handcraft seems to me to be an IED. It's professional work. It doesn't look like anything but trash, and it wouldn't stick out except for one thing: the smell. That smell, dripping off the ordinance, is rat poison. It's an anti-coagulant. When rat poison is slathered on an IED, it means that if someone is caught in the blast and gets a bit of the rat poison with the shrapnel, their blood will not clot. In other words: They'll die, bleeding out wherever they are.
And that's Darker Handcraft: It is vile and it pays attention to the details. It is messy. It is expertly recorded (but not cleanly) by Kurt Ballou. What's there is meant to kill in a way that's not anti-septic. You are not meant to marvel at Darker Handcraft. You are meant to be murdered by it.
The only warning you get is an entire quarter-second of guitars turning on before the other players jump in on opener "Damage Prose", and from there, you're in a better place. Well, a thrashier one, at least. 2007's Seance Prime backwards proved Trap Them knew how to beat their listener into submission, but that shit's old meme; Darker Handcraft shines elsewhere.
Most tellingly, Trap Them knows exactly how much to bludgeon their listener. "All by the Constant Vulse" is great not just because it's brutal, but because it knows when to ease up, when the threat of the guitar coming in again is terrorizing enough. In "...Vulse", drummer Chris Maggio gets a couple seconds to himself carrying the beat and, without accompaniment, the beat makes me hold my breath.
Darker Handcraft is almost devoid of pretense (I pass over McKenney's lyrical aims: Use a bleak future setting to talk about the ills of today) and delivered in a way that places an emphasis on speed and ferocity, but knows when to let up. When it does let up, it is not for anything less than Queens of the Stone Age-style riffing ("Evictionaries"!) before descending back into the sheltering chaos and precision noise (see the pulverizing four-minute triptych of "Saintpeelers", "Manic in the Grips" and "Sovereign Through the Pines").
Or at least that's what I would have written if I hadn't heard track 11, "Drag the Wounds Eternal". It's morose. It's melancholy and stands out upon first listen because of it. McKenney's vocals, true to genre, are indecipherable without, of course, a willingness to give myself permanent hearing damage, but carry the sadness of the tune. Yes, there's "Sordid Earnings", an interlude which NPR described as a "sinister zombie walk," but that's as much to clear the palate for what follows it, "The Facts". It's worth mentioning: "The Facts" might also be called Trap Them rewrites "History's Stranglers" by the Bronx. (This is a very good thing.)
"Scars Align" closes out the disc, and finishes with what might reasonably called an abbreviated version of "Mission Convincers", the closer of 2008′s Seizures in Barren Praise.
Trap Them probably chafe at the histrionics of music critics (Best band since Entombed! The new Extreme Noise Terror!) so I'll finish with this: This is all a very long-winded way of saying, I like Darker Handcraft and have taken a description of an explosive from suspense author Greg Rucka.
In Darker Handcraft, Trap Them loosed a disc that I find thoroughly abrasive, noxious and vile. Thus: ecstatically recommended!
Originally written for Pastepunk.com, revised for Punknews.