Without doing any disservice to the band, it’s entirely possible to sum up Baptists and their first full-length in a single sentence. The Vancouver, Canada-based outfit play crusty, metallic hardcore, recorded their debut, Bushcraft, at Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou’s famed Godcity studio, and released it on Southern Lord. Those three facts are not so much clues as straightforward cues—there’s nothing cryptic about Bushcraft, or about Baptists. The band’s 7-inch (which sold out swiftly) got the band an initial rush of attention when released on Southern Lord in 2011. Baptists fit right in with the label’s stable of crusty artists—such as Nails, All Pigs Must Die and Wartorn—by making similarly dissonant, distorting and infectious anthems.
Still, don’t let Baptists’ uncomplicated approach fool you into thinking they’re unimaginative. They’re bristling with armaments, and show exactly how to deliver that payload with precision. The band makes grinding and feedback-soaked crossover noise, with hardcore providing the uppercut and metal delivering the kick in the teeth. It’s fast, ceaselessly nerve-shredding, and leaves carnage in its wake like a derailed freight train. Tracks off Bushcraft, such as “Betterment”, “Think Tank Breed”, “Bullets” and “In Droves”, are all velocity, vitality and uninterrupted ire—grimy riffs and martial drumming in a bare-knuckled, bloody fist fight.
Bushcraft‘s 11 songs owe their brain-battering momentum to bands such as Tragedy, Cursed, and, as everyone operating in Baptists’ pugnacious spectrum does, Converge. In that sense, everything about Bushcraft is entirely familiar, albeit in a comforting rather than derivative way. That familiarity is, of course, based on metallic hardcore’s self-imposed limitations, where chaos and intensity are privileged over any graduated escalation, and that very relentlessness is both an asset and a liability on albums from the sub-genre.
When albums work well, bands allow their individuality to be revealed in dynamic, quick-fire and captivating shifts in sound. But when it all goes wrong, it’s simply one long smear of generic d-beats and buzzsaw guitars. Thankfully, Baptists recognize that, although fans do require constant clobbering, such aggression doesn’t have to come at the expense of smart songwriting. At its best, metallic hardcore is perfect masochistic catharsis, but there’s more than one way to wield the cudgel. As the most interesting bands in metallic hardcore have proven time and time again, it’s the hooks, rhythmic glitches and split-second, mucky breakdowns that keep the tunes engaging.
Baptists succeed in ensuring Bushcraft remains engaging, thanks, in part, to drummer Nick Yacyshyn. His work provides the unyielding vertebrae of the album, and his dexterous fills propel the songs forward. But guitarist Danny Marshall is the prime reason that Bushcraft rises above the mire of metallic hardcore acts. Marshall mixes heads-down abrasiveness with paroxysms of frenetic variations, and though they may only be momentary, the spasmodic flickers on tracks like “Crutching Trails” and “Soiled Earth” add color to the album, granting crucial shadings to its darkness.
The sludge heart of “Still Melt” might draw in the sickening heave of Jesus Lizard, and the math-rock grind of “Russian Circles” has a Botch-like taint, but Marshall’s infusion of a broader range of influences allows the songs to have far more flavor than simple bitterness. This gives vocalist Andrew Drury more varied terrain to spit and snarl over, and makes sure Bushcraft has a distinct enough personality to not simply ape what has come before.
What also counts in Bushcraft’s favor is its brevity. At 27 minutes, the album is perfectly timed to deliver its hits, while still leaving room for wanting more. In fact, the hunger to push replay as soon as the album ends is strong, and Kurt Ballou’s characteristic production plays its role in that desire. As he seemingly manages to do with every band that enters his studio, Ballou has captured all the filthiness and raw power of Baptists. He amplifies the band’s elbow-greased fortitude, and ensures all the instrumentation has the hazard and stench of an untamed grease fire.
Bushcraft harnesses the energy of predatory punk and metal, and channels that into compendious, blistering bombardments. As far as metallic hardcore goes, it ticks all the compulsory boxes. The album is barbaric enough for those seeking ear-splitting riffs, percussion, and bass from hell, but it’s also clever enough for those wanting to be punished in a more profound manner. In all, it’s simply an album you want to be pummeled by again and again, and there’s no finer compliment to give it than just that.