Extreme metal is a lot like sports, in many ways: the endless contests to decide who wields the nastiest riffs, the sickest beatdowns, the fastest blasts or the most absurdly guttural or otherwise otherworldly vocals. Not that most credible acts are purposefully getting involved in a virtuoso pissing contest, but it's hard to remember the last time someone demanded that the world listen to a new extreme metal record because it had, you know, great songs on it. When it comes to the sub-sub-genre world of "downtempo" (or really slow deathcore, if you'd prefer a more accurate description), there has never been much pretense between its exponents that anyone is dedicated to the noble art of songcraft. This stuff is all about slow-motion death metal breakdowns that lurch and lumber like lobotomized megalodons and the merciless bursts of brutal DM speed that erupt in between, provide jarring contrast and some red meat for discerning old-school diehards. But it's also true that slow-mo deathcore has vast potential for some subversive tinkering, and that's where BOUND IN FEAR come in. This is definitely within the downtempo wheelhouse, and if you've enjoyed records by the likes of BLACK TONGUE and OSIAH — and you really should have done — then BOUND IN FEAR's ferocious take on those same ingredients will indubitably scratch the same itch. But there's something else going on here, too: a barbaric, almost feral intensity that makes every song on "The Hand of Violence" sound genuinely dangerous and disturbing.
The intro that precedes opener "Saint of Sorrow" sets the scene with utmost creepiness and psychotropic menace, although it's not entirely clear what the heavily treated voiceover is saying on first listen. None of that matters once the first riff kicks in, however: like a giant sledgehammer flattening a circle pit, BOUND IN FEAR barely wait for the riff to repeat four times before they drop a few additional notches of pace, and it's in these moments that this British crew's magic really erupts. Where many of their peers would be courting the dancefloor with a move like this, these sonic bullies are closer in spirit to the glacial crush of GODFLESH or NEUROSIS. Again, the riff that opens "The Rot Within" is superficially textbook, but the way it expands and evolves is mesmerizing, as drums switch emphasis underneath and vocalist Ben Mason's dizzying array of bubbling roars and bug-eyed shrieks splatter across the aural canvas like gushing, Lovecraftian vomit. Across five hypnotic minutes, BOUND IN FEAR's grotesque, mutant manifesto comes clear, and it's a feat they repeat several times during "The Hand of Violence", while still managing to tick every conceivable box for less imaginative deathcore fans. Both "Condemned" and "Hate Circuit" sound purpose built for the live arena, with massive, ugly grooves and chaos-causing here-it-comes dynamics laid on thickly with a giant, satanic trowel. But even within those more prosaic moments, this band never seems to lose their fascination with warping the death-weft. The result is an album that will undoubtedly crush you and make you want to sprint into a swirling crowd of sweaty hooligans, fists flying, but it's also an album that will fill you with a profound sense of crippling existential dread. If you can think of anything heavier than that, please let me know.