Eric Smith fronted the Virginia-based hardcore/screamo band, The Catalyst, but the chances are you’ve never heard of them if you’re a reader from outside the USA. They split in 2016, and Smith did what most frontmen do when short of creative outlets – he looked around for another gig until deciding to go it alone. And what type of artist can remain silent during the current zeitgeist and the most damaging global pandemic since the Spanish Flu of 1918? Couple that with a neurotic anxiety and ruminations on substance abuse, and you have an album that needs to be heard.
Other than the programmed drums, Smith plays everything on Aimless Dread and brings to life twelve songs that read like the journal entries of a man losing his mind. You might frown at the pseudo-spoken word verses of opener, ‘SLPWLKR’, until Smith switches to a raucous high-range scream and ramps up the Big Black noise-rock with the aching honesty of a man that lost his sense of purpose. “I am a hollow man/ I’m just a crater/ I’m just an extra in someone else’s life/ I long for clarity and I grasp for purpose/ But isolation pries my fingers apart,” he yells in our ears. Clearly, Smith has a lot of vitriol inside, but that does not stop him from executing his guitar work with a high level of imagination and craft. ‘Old haunt’ is like Nirvana covering Black Flag, while ‘The Call’ takes a ferocious doom metal approach caked in fuzz and twisted chord shapes, a bit like Rollins Band on a stronger dose of steroids. The vocals are agonising yet tuneful and as intense as Virginia hardcore legends, Majority Rule. You might even reach for the air guitar if you’re not admiring the output of each instrument and trying to count the number of different layers in the mix. Hey, we don’t call this noise rock for nothing, even if the foundations are early 2000s’ hardcore.
Those of you of a more metallic bent will find plenty to feast on here. ‘X’d Out’ is as heavy as Botch and as honest as Deadguy. “I’m so bored with this bullshit/ These fake friendships that only drift and drift/ So forget my love, forget my face/ Burn everything that bears my name,” implores Smith. The hysterics on standout track, ‘Alt Delete’, need to be heard to garner belief. This is pure punk-rock injected with the aggression of hardcore and the fuzz of grunge. Again, the lyrics are fascinating: “The scalpel growing nearer every day/ Sometimes that’s all I can see/ Still I try to evade these fantasies of guillotines.” You could imagine Kurt Cobain unleashing this ferocity in another life. He’d approve of the Fugazi influence on ‘Asterisk’, just as you’ll clench your jaw for the surprise drench of Electric Wizard on ‘Solstice’.
As a person already suffering from social anxiety before the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s inevitable Smith could not remain silent about the arrogant police brutality that saw George Floyd lose his life. ‘Copstomp’ is the sound of a person who sees a fractured society and wants change. “I’ve died so many times watching your shit-eating grin as you wave to the cameras and rise for the flag in comfort and wilful oblivion. Cover your eyes as the bodies pile up,” roars Smith. You might think the music is of secondary importance with such a powerful message, but you couldn’t be further from the truth. This is a tune that rocks like Mudhoney and packs a key-change in the chorus that would make Trent Reznor proud.
We love an honest record from the gut, and they don’t come more sincere than this one. End You is the sound of the pollution and the mark of neurosis that scars modern city life. Is it any wonder Eric Smith finds it difficult to see a life beyond his role as the spectator at the windowsill?
Release Date: 21/05/2021
Standout tracks: The Call, Alt Delete, Copstomp
Suggested Further Listening: Botch – We are the Romans (1999), Big Black – Songs about Fucking (1987), Majority Rule – Interviews with David Frost (2001)