Harm’s Way is a band that some may find difficult to categorize. Originally formed in Chicago, Illinois in 2006 as a casual side project playing fast-paced powerviolence and hardcore punk; the band has since gone through several metamorphoses, and over the years, have slowed down their pace and leaned more toward a down-tuned “metal” sound. We can throw around labels all day such as hardcore, metalcore, death metal, nu-metal, industrial, thrash metal, groove metal, sludge, and the list goes on and on. Certainly, influences of all these genres can be heard in their music. At the end of the day, from what I can tell though, these guys are just simply evolving their style to become the heaviest, most brutal, powerful, in-your-face sounding music they can come up with. There’s no frills or gimmicks; no wank-off guitar solos or whiney ballads; It’s – Just. Plain. Heavy. Whatever you decide to classify them as, Harm’s Way’s latest full-length studio album, ‘Posthuman,’ is the sonic equivalent of a brutally violent ass-beating by a ten-ton sledgehammer.
Produced by Will Putney (The Acacia Strain/ The Amity Affliction), ‘Posthuman’ is the band’s fourth full-length studio album, and the first to be released on Metal Blade Records. Filling out the lineup are founding members Chris Mills (drums), Bo Lueders (guitar), and James Pligge (vocals); newcomers Casey Soyk (bass), and Nick Gauthier (guitar) sign on prior to recording.
One of the main things that stood out to me about ‘Posthuman’ is the guitar tone. Where their 2015 album, ‘Rust’ utilized a more “buzzsaw” sound, this time around they’ve managed to dial in the perfect level of thick, crunchy distortion to accentuate the crushing, low-end chugging riffs for maximum heaviness. The production quality with this album, in general, is top notch with everything sounding crisp and full. The drums are thunderous and punchy, the bassline is beefy, and the vocals are neither too loud or too smothered in the mix. Every musical element is able to shine the way it should.
Starting off the onslaught is “Human Carrying Capacity.” The overall theme of ‘Posthuman’ is a feeling of not being a part of the world anymore, and track one specifically deals with issues related to overpopulation. The song comes in with a sludgey groove, reminiscent of Crowbar, and then alternates through thrashier sections, and includes an industrial-tinged breakdown segment at the midpoint. Vocally, Pligge roars with an intensely powerful and highly aggressive tone that can be described as a hybrid of death metal growl and hardcore punk scream – something in the realm of a Max Cavalera.
‘Posthuman’ took the band three weeks to record which is the longest they’ve ever spent to record a full album before. According to Mills, this gave them ample time to do more experimentation and for “refining the songs to be the best possible versions of themselves.” The attention to detail definitely shows in tracks like “Sink,” a devastating bruiser chock full of nasty, chuggy riffs and sick breakdowns. It’s simple, yet cleanly executed and brutal.
On “Temptation” things shift into a more subdued yet chaotic, atmospheric vibe, with the drums and bass taking the forefront while the guitars wail in dissonance. “Becoming a Machine” picks up the intensity again with machine gun riffing and bludgeoning start-stop breakdowns. So far, the album plays through like a well-oiled machine. There’s not much straying from the path and many of the riffs, tones, and tempos are similar. While this may seem like a detractor, the subtle nuances within each song keeps things interesting for the most part.
Next, is my personal favorite track of the record, “Call My Name.” This song is just balls-out heavy. When I first heard it, I think I may have even said out loud, “God-DAMN that’s heavy!” It starts of with an intro reminiscent of Korn’s “It’s On” and then just proceeds to mercilessly pummel from then on. I strongly recommend playing this one as loud as possible.
Finishing out the album is the existential heavy-hitter, “Dead Space.” Of its lyrical message, Pligge states, “The song hones in on the realization that we will all pass away into what I believe to be the end of our own consciousness, or any other theoretical physical space.” It’s a fittingly crushing closer with some of the most bone-chillingly intense, multi-layered vocal work of the record.
Overall, ‘Posthuman’ succeeds in what it intends to accomplish and that is achieving sheer sonic brute force. Is it for the most part one-dimensional? Yes. Are the riffs and beats generally simplistic? Sure. Many fans of extreme music may find that Harm’s Way lacks complexity in their songs, and to those I say, get over it! Sometimes just hitting the right frequency; finding the perfect equation of groove, heaviness, and intensity, but at the same time executing it proficiently, is all that it takes to make a record great. Harm’s Way pulls off this formula perfectly. Highly recommend.