Dallas quintet, I Am, might have a silly name, but they’re serious about their art and determined to pull their influences from a spectrum that incorporates metallic hardcore through to death metal and thrash. Now on their third outing and first full-length since 2018’s Hard 2 Kill, they return with a new drummer (Brandon Busa), a new record label (MNRK Heavy), and a sharp blade waiting to slice through your skin. Eternal Steel is a bruising record that will appeal to those that are neither sadist nor masochist as much as it will the extreme crowd.
The biceps in opener, ‘The Primal Wave’, are superhuman. Twenty-five seconds of a febrile atmospheric ambience give way to a brutal onslaught of guitars, bass and drums like a rough hardcore band warming up the audience for a Vader show. Yet the guitar duo of Tom Reyes and Chris Burgess show no contentment to stay within the parameters of what delivers the most violent outcome. Listen to the precise alt-picking rhythms of the mid-section where they attack the bridge of their guitars with the same intensity as Tommy Victor (Prong). Identifying which songs are more Terror than Terrorizer, is one of the great games of the first side of Eternal Steel. ‘Surrender of the Blade’ starts with a monumental crunch of mid-tempo groove patterns, but the band seldom stay within the same domain. Instead, they use the stop-start technique to slam through their wide range of influences in less than four minutes. Sometimes, it’s obvious where their minds were during the writing process – the title track borrows from Slayer but retains a death metal flavouring for the chorus.
Aside from Slayer, the thrash elements of I Am’s music echo Vio-lence and Forbidden more than they do the Big Four. ‘Vicious Instinct’ is a case in point, yet the way they modulate their tempo changes with a trademark Obituary roar demonstrates what we already know – Obituary are now one of the biggest influences on metallic hardcore. The morbid death-doom of ‘Infernal Panther’ (“Consumed by flesh/ My teeth begin to rot”) mixes hardcore with Slayer’s ‘South of Heaven’ for its foundations. In fact, you can identify a few moments of homage to famous metal songs throughout this record. ‘Queen Incarnate’ recalls the intro to ‘Sister Mary Suite’ by Queensrӱche before it slips into the torment of the late 1980s Floridian sound.
Eleven tracks spread over forty-one minutes will tax your patience after eight songs. Now, your focus becomes a sociological one – at what point did modern hardcore adopt Obituary as its main influence? ‘Price of Pain’ is the best one to analyse if your aim is to mediate on this topic. ‘Eye Candy’ almost regresses into an innocuous existence, but they pull it back with a chorus that would not be out of place on Pantera’s The Great Southern Trendkill. Fortunately, the chunky riffs have vocals that are just as happy to flex their muscles on ‘Surrender to the Blade’: “Man the field/ Grab the steel/ Eviscerate all who oppose/ I grip the dirt and plead to earth/ I will conquer all/ I will die for the ones I’ve loved/ I exist to fight.” Imagine this roared down a microphone as a threat rather than a vocal line and put yourself in Andrew Hileman’s position – you can feel the bayonet spike on the tip of your fingers.
A tour with a band like Jungle Rot would be the logical next step for I Am. They show on album number three that their calibration of hardcore, thrash and death metal is a balancing act that comes natural to them. It might have benefitted from a couple of songs trimmed from the final cut, but Eternal Streel is never dull.
Release Date: 09/09/2022
Record Label: MNRK Heavy
Standout tracks: The Primal Wave, The Iron Gate, Queen Incarnate
Suggested Further Listening: Terror – Pain into Power (2022), Obituary – The End Complete (2022), Casket Feeder – Servants of Violence (2022)