Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Best of 2008: #5. Verse - Aggression

Aggression is the third album by Rhode Island hardcore group Verse, and really, it couldn't be any more aptly titled. Throughout the album, the five-piece harness their thickly layered sound into a dense and furious concoction that sparkles with righteous and pointed acrimony. What occurs is the development of a hardcore dynamic that places dual emphasis on heaviness and speed, with the songs being lead by the fast and forceful rhythms of the drums and the inspired, ear-shattering strength of the guitars, taking Aggression well beyond realm of the average hardcore album and into that of the exceptional.

What stands out most about Aggression is the absolute forcefulness of it all, both musically and lyrically. Verse are a fiercely political group, and it is shown through their choice of subject matter. In fact, most every song on this album takes on a political bent to some extent, with the over-arcing theme being the feelings of frustration and bitterness that result from the tremendous audacity of modern inequality. "Old Guards, New Methods" portrays our current political leaders as the modern kings, "wealthy wolves" who jail and murder the innocent in the name of self-interest. "Blind Salvation" is an attack on the "dark history" of religious practices and the oppression and war that ostensibly holy doctrines have often ended up supporting. On "The New Fury", singer Sean Murphy's screams ring with a virulent honesty to them, as if to register his disgust with the dispicable gap in power between the rich and the poor.

But the major highlight of Aggression, and one that displays the pattern of emotional subject matter that Verse deal with, is the three-part "Story of a Free Man", which follows the life, development and emancipation of the titular 'free man'. The first part ("The End of Innocence") tells of a boy whose father has gone off to war and the anger and depression he sinks into as a result. The second ("The Cold Return") jumps forward to what appears to be the boy's adult years, depicting a homeless man whose sense of frustration and depression has never ceased, and who needs to turn to drugs in order to numb the overwhelming isolation felt in his life. The third and final part ("Serenity") consists solely of a building guitar line and drums as Murphy, switching to the first person, mutters to himself "I'm walking away from this", the grandiosity of the moment eventually culminating with the full force of the guitars as his voice rises to a breathless, jagged scream:

this is the story of a free man

It is an overwhelmingly powerful tale, one that feels just as epic in practice as the idea of a three-part song does in theory, thanks to the vivid and touching way in which it is presented. Not only that, but it takes on the anti-war focus that comes through on many of the songs on this album from an entirely new vantage point, switching from the incensed conjecture of songs like "The New Fury" to a directly narrative scope, allowing the listener to empathize with a specific subject and therefore adopt a more personal connection to the message on display.

What Verse have done with their third album is create just under thirty minutes of beautifully passionate and frantic music that emits a feeling of defiance in the face of hopelessness. This is easily the best straight-up hardcore album of the year, and possibly the best since the similarly grandiose Witness. Fiery, political, and, well, aggressive, Aggression packs into it a sense of fury and vitriol that will not soon be forgotten.

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