It’s easy for curmudgeonly old writers and fans to ridicule some young metal bands for not appreciating the roots of traditional heavy metal. After all, when mainstream metal is dominated by the likes of Avenged Sevenfold, Attack! Attack!, and Asking Alexandria, it’s easy for someone who’s been listening to metal for more than a quarter century to be just a little bit dismayed with what this splendid genre has been reduced to. That said, one positive aspect about the younger generation of aspiring metal musicians is that there are nowhere near as many genre restrictions as there were 15, 20 years ago. Back then, subgenres like death metal, black metal, thrash metal, were strictly divided, each with its own template and set of unspoken “rules” to adhere to. These days, though, genre boundaries are nonexistent to young musicians, and as a result, we’ve been treated to a bevy of bands that dip into several different styles at once, more often than not offering jaw-dropping displays of dexterous musicianship as a result. Although some extreme metal bands forget that versatility and technical chops don’t mean a thing if you don’t know how to write a proper song, when a new band does come along displaying skill in both departments, it can yield something exciting enough to make an old geezer think that there might be hope for metal after all.
Owen Hart is one such band. Taking its name from the tragic Canadian pro wrestler for reasons unknown to this writer (though Owen Hart was a phenomenal wrestler back in the day), the Tacoma, Washington, five-piece has been slugging it out on the West Coast since 2004 with a demo and a two-song EP under its belt, but only just started to turn heads thanks to their inclusion on the second volume of the influential grindcore series This Comp Kills Fascists on Relapse Records. Although the ludicrously titled tracks “My Grandma’s Fucking a Tranny From Alaska” and “You’ll See 8 Year Olds in Hell”, not to mention the pure speed of the band, fit in comfortably with the rest of the grindcore bands showcased, there was a hint of pure, honest-to-goodness metal on those songs. You’d get fleeting glimpses of thrash, doom, and blackened death metal, enough to convince you that if they fleshed these ideas out, they’d come up with something truly special.
What’s most surprising about their full-length debut — Earth Control — is just how fully realized Owen Hart now sounds compared to their previous recorded material. In fact, the band has given itself over to extreme metal so completely, you’d be hard pressed to find a song here that fits under the grindcore umbrella. Only the maniacal, cathartic screams of Timm Trust, which are a dead ringer for Jacob Bannon’s vocal work with Converge retain any “core” elements. The rest is an exercise in pure, fist-bangin’ metal, and the entire band absolutely nails it.
As is always the case, it’s all about the riffs, and guitarists Tony Wolff and Rusty Graeff come up with some inspired ideas. A good portion of the album captures the sound of circa-1984 Slayer so perfectly, in fact, you’d think they’d stolen the ideas from a lost Jeff Hanneman demo, whether it’s the melodic central riff of “44 Black”, the wicked mid-tempo breakdown on “Poor Straight White Guy”, or the pure menace of “Bombay Beach”. Elsewhere, “Welcome to Worthlessville” shifts from melodic black metal tremolo picking, to death metal brutality, to lurching noise riffs and cadences worthy of Today is the Day, and back again. “I Hate Myself and Want to Die” is pure death metal on the level of Carcass, right down to the ultra-contagious groove 44 seconds in, while “Fuck Morrrisey, Fuck the Smiths, Fuck the Cure” shames every trendy deathcore band the kids are into with its blend of technicality and undeniable hooks. In other words, the duo is all over the map here, and thanks to some phenomenal drumming by Brian Skiffington, the band doesn’t slip off the rails for a second.
Although it’s impossible to hear what Trust is screaming about, upon closer inspection, his lyrics turn out to be surprisingly strong, plumbing the darkest depths of the human psyche: “I’d trade it all for a chance to see through their eyes, their windows / But outside mine are clouded visions”…”This letter falls to the floor along with every tear I have / Every ounce of strength falters, a void in her existence, enslaved her existence, to nullify her existence.” From the graphic nature of “Methlahem”, to the blunt hilarity of “Fuck Morrisey, Fuck the Smiths, Fuck the Cure”, to the pure despair of “The Letter” and “I Hate Myself and I want to Die”, it all gives Earth Control even more depth, making an already phenomenal debut even more memorable.