Written by: Izzy
Despite often on first glance appearing as a metalhead, probably because I’m oft wearing my Slayer or Gojira tshirts, I actually consider myself much more of a hardcore kid at heart. I never cared for classic punk, and my dad raised me on Dio and Black Sabbath so it was natural I grew up mostly in the metal scene, but as I got older and learned about more genres adjacent and outside of metal, when I finally dove into hardcore something about the music and community just grabbed me and I’ve felt so at home there ever since.
Don’t get me wrong, metalheads are great people (usually), but the hardcore community was so accepting, progressive minded, filled with activists looking for a change, it felt like where I belonged, much more than any metal community I had been a part of. So, in the span of a couple years I went from a diehard metalhead to a straight-edge core kid, I guess you could call me…Transgenre.
Okay okay I just really wanted to make that joke. I’ll actually start the review now.
Varials was not a name I was familiar with before this album, but after listening to In Darkness? They’ve stolen an instant spot on my list of hardcore bands to watch out for, and they ought to be on yours by the end of this review. If you’re not so easily convinced just go listen to this album and their debut LP, Pain Again: that should be enough to prove to even the most staunch elitists and old school NYHC fanboys that they aren’t your run-of-the-mill bare minimum metallic hardcore band (*cough*KublaiKhan*cough*), and are part of the new blood keeping HXC alive and thriving.
In Darkness is a pained cry, and one that rattles your eardrums until the very end. Unrelenting guitar, chunky bass and pummeling drums meld together into a dark torrent on the senses, pulling you down into the depths where the darkest human emotions lie. There’s so much going on in this album, despite not being overly complex on the surface, but there’s not a single pleasant feeling throughout its run-time. It is dark, and not meant for the faint of heart, it’s flooding with anger, sadness, regret, pain, abuse, almost every song seems to rip out a new insecurity of trauma.
But even that isn’t enough if the music gets stale or the band can’t make it hit with the urgency it needs, but Varials aren’t a one trick pony. In Darkness is not just one hardcore riff after another, with skank beats and bass that hangs in the background. You hear every instrument clearly, and Varials know just when to slow down or speed up to emphasize a point. There’s also a couple interludes, which often I dislike, but here they serve an important point to give you a moment of rest, so you can process what you’ve been hearing, they let you rise to the surface and take a breath right before you’re dragged back down.
As if Varials didn’t already have a heart wrenching, incredibly solid album, they weren’t content with just “great”, they took it one step further and made this album amazing by throwing another curveball. Clean singing. People are always gonna complain about cleans in genres that traditionally are harsh only, but man do these guys do it perfectly. Only a couple tracks have clean singing, and they aren’t done in a particularly melodic way, they’re eerie and unnerving, very reminiscent of Deftones. I think it sounds especially Deftones-like because it may be polytonal, as Chino loves singing in different keys, but correct me if I’m wrong as I’m not super well versed in music theory.
"Romance" is the highlight of the entire album for me just because of how expertly crafted it is, it’s a short track that fits right in the center of the album and in a way acts almost as an interlude. Super chuggy guitar and loud clangy snares with overtones that ring out beautifully all slowly build an atmospheric as the instrumentation prepares for its crescendo, layers getting added one by one, until it all disappears for a moment, then explodes with a perfectly placed reference to Nine Inch Nails’ "Closer."
At the end it’s all stripped back down to just clangy bass and drums, before ending with about 30 seconds or so of super compressed and audio effect smothered drumming. When they say it’s the little things that matter, it is, because this two minute track made me rethink the entire album and showed me that there are too many little details I’d miss if this was just a one and done listen for me.
Art that seem simple but gets more and more nuanced and complex as you peel away the layers and dive deeper is the kind that gives me chills. In Darkness drowns you in its unrelenting sorrow, but when you learn to sit still and wade in its depths, you’ll slowly unravel its nuances.
So come on in, the water’s nice.
Varials - In Darkness was released Oct. 11th, 2019 from Fearless.
Varials can be found, in their various permutations, here.
Providing thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy, and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a groggy-eyed, highfalutin peasantry.