Over the past four or five years New Hampshire foursome Trap Them has been steadily making a name for itself with a series of albums and EPs that merge extreme metal, grindcore, and hardcore so well that they’re coming very close to matching the visceral, venomous artistry of crossover icons Converge. As they’ve proven on such standouts as 2007’s Sleepwell Deconstructor and 2008’s Seizures in Barren Praise, they’ve got all the ingredients for a classic extreme band: a rhythm section that can groove as much as it crushes, riffs that cleverly combine abrasiveness and catchiness, and a frontman who not only emits a menacing, confrontational snarl, but turns out to be eloquent in his lyric writing as well. Toss in the best producer in the business in, interestingly, Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou, and you know you’re going to get a record bordering in spectacular each time out.
As potent a band Trap Them is, both on record and live, the band has been subtly evolving as the years have gone by. The insane grind of Sleepwell Deconstructor gave way to a slightly more controlled, song-oriented feel on the follow-up, punk d-beats and metallic riffs becoming more and more prominent in the songwriting. After relentlessly assaulting listeners, Trap Them had learned how to swing, which added a cool new dimension to the music. So it comes as no surprise that Darker Handcraft, their first release for metal label Prosthetic, continues that growth toward more disciplined songwriting and musicianship. What is surprising, however, is just how close the band comes to following the lead of other bands who have not only beaten them to it, but have employed Ballou as producer in the last year.
It’s a gimmick that’s been done before, but when done properly it’s immensely satisfying: combining the “death ‘n’ roll” groove of mid-‘90s Entombed, the filthy crust punk riffs of Nausea, and the off-the-rails drumming of Discharge. And Ballou has played a major role in the popularity of that sound, as Disfear, the Secret, and Black Breath have all put their music on tape with him at the helm. After years of forging their own path, the idea of Trap Them falling in like with everyone else seems a bit strange, but that’s where the unmistakable chemistry the band has always had becomes a major factor.
None of what we hear on Darker Handcraft is necessarily new, but few bands translate live energy on to record as well as Trap Them does, and this new album practically explodes out of the gate and doesn’t quit for a full half hour. Unlike Black Breath, whose sound is still slightly rooted in thrash metal, Trap Them’s approach is a lot looser, more punk rock. Brian Izzi’s riffs careen wildly in Converge-like fashion early on, on such cuts as “Damage Prose” and “Every Walk a Quarantine” as drummer Chris Maggio is absolutely insane behind the kit, his maniacal fills and emphasis on the ride cymbal finding that perfect spot where the song balances brilliantly between tightness and completely falling apart.
Also, the album gets a lot more interesting the deeper you delve into it, as the metal influences start to come to the fore even more, the tempo slowing, the songs getting longer. “Evictionaries” carries itself with a mighty swagger, Izzi’s bent riffs taking on more of a doom metal tone. The ragged “Scars Align” moves like one of Lemmy Kilmister’s more demented compositions from the Orgasmatron era, “Drag the Wonds Eternal” is a pulsating slow-burner, while “All By the Constant” is a contagious crust/punk/thrash hybrid. If there was ever a potential breakthrough track for Trap Them, though, it’s the instantly memorable “The Facts”. The single catchiest song the band has ever written, it actually combines Southern sludge and hardcore in similar fashion to Every Time I Die, but minus the smugness. When Ryan McKenney hollers the soon-to-be-classic refrain “I am that goddamn son of a bitch,” there’s no knowing wink. He means it, and we don’t deny it. In stunning fashion Trap Them has ventured into well-traveled territory and stomped the hell out of the template, showing their peers just how it’s done. It’s exciting to consider what this talented band will next have up its sleeve, but if they did nothing but churn out music like this for the rest of their career, it’s hard to believe anyone would ever complain.