How We Are frontman Rory VanGrol is somewhat of a wonder. In an era of music where so many singers can’t even make one band sound halfway decent, there is VanGrol, with two successful and two talented bands. When he’s not bellowing from the depths of his lungs as the head of Achilles, he’s spastically delivering his thought-invoking lyrics as the frontman for Rochester hardcore standouts How We Are.
To Teach a Hundred is the brand new full-length for the latter of those projects, and I can tell you without reservation that it was well worth the wait.
It all starts with those spastic vocals. From the outset, the energy and drive behind VanGrol and the rest of the band is nothing if not overpowering. After a quick and speedy riff to open the song those manic screams enter the fold, immediately making for a chaotic swirl of sound that fits perfectly with the driving rhythms laying underneath. The vocals are only one element of the band though, and I’d be remiss to say they’re the only impressive aspect of the record. The most notable step up from 2004’s EP is the guitar work. The combination of Adam Vernick and Michael Sarnowski is as dynamic and formidable as any duo you’re liable to find in hardcore. Look no further than “Thrush” for a perfect illustration of their cohesion.
Starting simply enough, the speed quickly escalates, as the clean chord progressions bounce all around the scales with reckless abandon. Not to be outdone, VanGrol’s lyrical prowess is as well illustrated here as anywhere else on the record; "How much longer can we engage / In these cat and mouse games / We all have fingers pointing, at someone / With a list of reasons why. So many tongues are burning / And no one’s standing down. Pride is losing its sentiment / But to some, it’s the only thing they have left."
It seems so token and so cliché to mention in regards to a hardcore record, but the sincerity and passion in those words is something that makes the music seem that much more profound. If it wasn’t evident enough on that track, “Beacon,” a song written about the band's hometown of Rochester, will make it crystal clear.
By the time the sixth song on the album, “If It Kills Me,” rolls around, How We Are is truly firing on all cylinders. Building and festering off their own energy, this five-piece just keeps adding on layer after layer of intensity, with VanGrol’s vocal chords seemingly shredding in two. The songs after “If It Kills Me” keep on hitting like rapid fire, finally culminating in the title track, “To Teach a Hundred.” This is the song that perfectly encompasses everything this band strives to be, the song that encompasses how each individual member contributes so much. From John 25’s excellent bass work, to Tommy Vollmer’s unrelenting fills, it's all perfectly in sync. The song is a very quick-moving one that depends a lot on the drumming, until the screams of “To…Teach… a… hund…red" seem to end things -- but that is not the case. The vocals soon come back in faster and more unrelenting than before, with the help and assistance of one Ted AB, repeating his verses with all the grit and conviction he brings to his own band. Quickly joined by Chuck Hickey of Black SS, Rory, and the rest of HWA, the impassioned gang vocals repeating words that sum the band up better than I possibly could.
“We keep time with songs on repeat, we keep warm with the words that we scream." So true Mr. Vangrol, so true.