This review needs to be prefaced with the disclaimer that I am, in fact, a fan of Hardside and their 2010 debut EP, Welcome to Hell. And not just a closet fan either; Welcome to Hell made my Best of 2010 list last year as I lauded the band's appealing blend of hardstyle and thrash while noting the levity of their approach and highly successful DIY branding. So what makes Crucified such a disappointing followup?
To begin answering this question, a pair of quotes:
"I think hardcore right now is so safe and so placating. I mean look at all these bands, I don't know what the hell anybody is talking about. Like "The world's so crazy, I'm going insane"!? ...OK, how many bands have that lyric? It's just so vapid."
- Aram Arslanian, 2008
"This isn't a game / Everything you do is driving me insane / Born dead, wish I was never here / Where's your breaking point? Nothing more to fear."
- Hardside, 2011
Sure, it wouldn't normally be fair to take just one small sample of lyrics from an entire five-song EP, but in this case it is absolutely indicative of what Hardside offers on Crucified. In fact, there is really no other word to describe these songs than vapid. "I'm not like the rest / I'll never go your way / Something's gotta be done / Now we're living under the gun," proclaims the nondescript "Nothing Left". "Born to Lose" asks the burning questions, "Where did the time go? How did I end up this way? / Never planned for it / But it's reality / ...Did I choose or has it chosen me? When will I learn? Will I ever see? Locked away, walls imprison the free / My dead end path will be the end of me." Heck, you don't even need to dive into the lyrics sheet to tell how generic these songs are: "Nothing Left"; "Crucified"; "Born to Lose"; "Two Faced"...could they be any more derivative? Every word is forced, nothing comes across as genuine, and in hardcore–where words are so important–there's no redeeming value in Hardside's message. True, Welcome to Hell wasn't much better lyrically, but at least there was something endearing about the fumbling verses and hardcore truisms because it was their first release. On Crucified, it just seems like vocalist Zane Pugh wrote down and recorded the first words that popped into his head.
Musically, Crucified shows more maturity and variation, though it loses its straightforward punk appeal in the process. The metal influence is turned way up, in moments of Pantera worship much like Throwdown's descent to groove metal, Venom & Tears. There are some nice riffs on "Nothing Left" and the instrumental filler "Temptations", but it's hard to argue it makes much of a difference to the final product as a whole.
The biggest problem on here other than the lyrics are the vocals. Not only does Pugh sound like he's overexerting himself trying to sound badass, but Crucified is already notorious for its use of "clean" (a.k.a. sung) vocals in addition to the amelodic hardcore shouts of its predecessor. In going this route, they most often point to NYHC stalwarts Leeway as a precedent. But really it just reminds me what Earth Crisis did with Slither. If Welcome to Hell is All Out War, then Crucified is Slither. Guitarist Patrick Flanigan can handle the six-string with the best of them, but the cheesy power metal vocal delivery puts a serious taint on this record.
Hardside is essentially the same band as Bitter End with a different vocalist, which makes it all the more vexing why Crucified sounds so misguided. This review doesn't necessarily need to be an indictment on the state of modern hardcore–there are still plenty of bands making it big in the scene who are worthy of their hype: Expire, FocusedxMinds, and Backtrack, to name a few. As noted, even Welcome to Hell is a suitable substitute. But for as much as there was to enjoy about Welcome to Hell, there's just as much to cringe about Crucified.