This Is The Reality That We Confront is the first full-length from Korean hardcore heavyweights 13 Steps. Since 2000, they have been gaining a solid (and rowdy) following by releasing a steady stream of demos, splits and tracks on comps. 13 Steps rank among the best of Korea's hardcore bands, and unlike some of the other bands in the scene they have a loyal following that can always be counted on to pack their shows. Recently those same crowds have been demanding more and more forcefully that 13 Steps deliver up a full-length, and deliver they did!
This Is The Reality That We Confront captures the energy and style that made their demos so popular and puts it in a polished form. Their sound has been compared to bands such as Agnostic Front and Sick Of It All; generally I would agree with that and so would 13 Steps, who don't hide their influences. They started as a metal band but after being introduced to NYHC bands changed to emulate the hardcore style (an alienating move in Korea where metal is immensely more popular).
The album starts with a building intro and plows into the heavy "Never Return," a song fairly typical of their style with deep growls and a singalong breakdown. From there the pace is pretty much set, no real surprises but no disappointments -- just a solid album throughout. The songs are diverse enough to be distinct and stay interesting but still similar enough to define a consistent sound for the band. For me, Dokyo13's vocals are one of the highlights of this band. They come at you strong and then seem to wrap around and hit you again from behind.
At first glance the cover art, a grenade fashioned like the American flag, and songs like "The Terrorist" and "Bush" may seem like an unlikely political statement for a South Korean band. The song "Bush" features spoken clips of Bush's declaration of war and Britney Spears' support for the President along with lyrics such as "same shit different asshole." However, in a country where support for the war was extremely low yet they were still coerced into sending over 3,600 Korean troops into Iraq, this isn't an uncommon sentiment. Other songs such as "Bugs" vent anger at domestic issues, in this case an online music server that streams Korean punk albums without permission from the bands, and songs like "One Family" or "Good Fellas" express themes of unity and commitment to friends and the 'scene.' The album also includes two covers: Cross Counter's "Brotherhood" and Minor Threat's "Filler."
The one complaint may be with the mastering. 13 Steps took the opportunity to have their album mastered by Alan Douches, who has also done work for bands such as H2O, Sick Of It All, and Snapcase. The results though seem a little disappointing compared to their earlier releases. According to a friend, "the guitars are too fuzzy, the drums are all silicon-coated, the bass is nothing but a straight hum, and the cymbals sound like they are made of tin foil." Keeping it in the country may have served them better here.
13 Steps has not only released a pioneering album for Korean hardcore but one that can rank up against bands from much more experienced hardcore scenes. I would like to end this review with some quip about a young promising band and looking forward to hearing more soon; however, the mandatory military service that befalls all Korean males means that 13 Steps will soon be going on a two-year hiatus. By the time they record again, this CD will have probably have already inspired a whole new wave of Korean hardcore.