156/Silence - Narrative (Cover Artwork)

156 / Silence

Narrative (2022)

SharpTone Records

Despite this being only the 1st full-length from 156/Silence written and recorded on a label with the reach of SharpTone, (2020’s Irrational Pull having been released initially independently and then later the same year by SharpTone) the band feel like an essential part of the modern, experimental hardcore scene even at this point. It would be hard to approach this review without mentioning contemporaries of theirs such as Code Orange, Vein.FM, Knocked Loose, etc. Now, that’s a lively and well-populated scene. There’s a sizeable buzz around each of those bands and whether I care to admit it or not, there is often a scepticism around grass-roots hardcore bands achieving any level of commercial success. So, is now a good time for 156/Silence to take that shot? Depends on what they’re bringing to the table, I guess.

If you’ve listened to Irrational Pull then you’ll know the kind of hardcore/metalcore that 156 make. It’s wild, impactful, breakdown-heavy and deeply impassioned. First tick, because this record is still all of those things. They’re also quite identifiable, not least because of Jack Murray’s signature blood-curdling screams. Not only are they ferocious and work with some of the record’s more brooding material (more on that later), but when required, he can bark out an extraordinary, bounce-led flow that hits a lot like nu-metal but with none of the goofiness, mercifully. Meanwhile, guitarist Jimmy Howell is equally recognisable in terms of style with his style being sat pretty much equidistant between hardcore and metal. The pummelling syncopation finding an unusually easy bedfellow in rapidly picked passages from far higher up the fretboard than one might initially expect. I gather his creativity also extended to include a lot of the less traditional elements/instrumentation that we hear on Narrative. It’s by no means unusual to hear bands from this scene reach out of the constraints of traditional hardcore (Code Orange, Vein.FM of course being chief examples of this), but 156/Silence have taken a different path.

There are full passages, not merely moments, in this record that caused me to raise an eyebrow the first time I heard them. The consistently visceral and impactful nature of Irrational Pull being what it was, to be entirely honest I expected a more lavishly produced version of that as much as anything else. But to their immense credit, 156/Silence have not rested on their laurels. They have created something that does retain the impact of their last record, but that builds on last year’s EP (Don’t Hold Your Breath) and does so with bold, unwavering purpose. Maybe the most obvious example of this is 7-minute album closer “Live To See A Darker Day”. It’s conceptual, interspersed with spoken word and other atmospheric tropes. Which are all things that any band can do, admittedly. The difference is making it work. And 156/Silence succeed in that, as well as they do with 3-and-a-bit minute ragers like “For All To Blame”. It’s important to point out though that even when the band elect to drop a banger, it has depth and nuance to it, compositionally speaking. And the last track isn’t a heavy band throwing a curve ball for the last track and thinking they’re experimental. The experiments, in a similar theme, are interlaced with the more overtly heavy tracks through the record’s runtime. The 1-2 of ‘I Am A Fault’ followed by ‘To Take Your Place’ evidences the understanding 156/Silence have for dynamics and their place in this iteration of the band’s existence.

The different textures and song structures are what allow this record to be almost 45 mins long and yet not feel overly long. I suppose the typical brevity of hardcore isn’t necessarily observed in the same way by metalcore/metallic hardcore bands and that’s ultimately where this record sits. Yet it’s a million miles away from anything you could call ‘radio-friendly’ and it has too wide a scope for a straight up hardcore record. But it’s also not first-wave metalcore per se. You know what? I don’t necessarily know what this is now I’ve thought about it. It doesn’t matter of course, but the fact that I can’t immediately categorise it is pretty fucking cool. I really liked Irrational Pull, but it didn’t stick with me for years, exactly. Narrative has more substance and atmosphere, but still has those shamelessly savage stink-face riffs that flick that switch in my primitive mosh-brain every time I hear them. I think mentally, I’m going to have to start including 156/Silence in the same group as the more experimental heavy bands who seemingly have a natural aptitude for allowing atmospherics, electronic influences and savagery to coexist in unsettling harmony.