Hardcore punk, for all its angst and aggression, has always been just an extreme form of party music. It’s an art form born of house parties and claustrophobic clusterfucks, guaranteed to send plastic cups and loose objects flying when its audience gets into a primal frenzy. Down to its most basic form, hardcore is just rock and roll played really, really fast, and since the early ’80s, despite its dalliances with straight-edge, hardcore has been soundtracking debauchery with little regard for subtlety or restraint. Catharsis, after all, can be as effective a form of intoxication as alcohol.
Toronto’s Burning Love, formed after the dissolution of frontman Chris Colohan’s former group Cursed, is, like similar-minded bruisers The Bronx and Fucked Up, a band whose manic punk rock anthems are tailor fit for either back-alley fistfights or drunken revelry. The band’s sophomore album and Southern Lord debut Rotten Thing To Say has energy and brawn to spare. But in contrast to many of their crusty, Entombed-indebted labelmates, Burning Love get their kicks in swagger and red-hot riffs, rather than d-beats and guttural bellows. Colohan definitely possesses one of hardcore’s most vicious screams, but it’s backed by a punk rock sound that’s far more invested in rock `n’ roll grooves than heavy metal destruction.
Recorded with Converge’s Kurt Ballou, Rotten Thing to Say is a white-knuckle ride through and through, but one that feels more like a joyride than a carjacking. Barring a minute-long intro and a companion closing piece, Burning Love maintains a momentum throughout the album that’s just this side of breakneck, amplifying Hot Snakes-style garage punk to its logical extreme. This approach yields straightforward power chord rippers (“No Love”), 40-second double-speed stomps (“Tremors”), and even some Queens of the Stone Age-style riff rockers (“Hateful Comforts”). It’s an exhausting pace to keep up, but the band’s songwriting chops are razor sharp, and as such, Rotten Thing reveals not just a consistently rocking set of songs, but a diverse and tightly written selection at that.
As a vocalist, Colohan steers clear of the more blatant political posturing that sometimes plays heavily into hardcore’s identity, though there’s a dark, nihilistic streak that runs through the 12 songs on the album. “Karla,” about Toronto serial killer Karla Homolka, can be a gut-wrenching listen, climaxing with Colohan’s harrowing line, “There’s no more painkillers/ Just you, me and this hammer.” Elsewhere, on “Superstitious Friend,” Colohan unpacks his cynicism: “I got a superstitious friend who says he knows what happens after the afterlife/ But I’m just trying to make it through tonight.” He sneers reminiscences of lost glory on the soaring standout “The Body,” and in “Broken Glass,” as he suggests the possibility of better days, he matter-of-factly grunts, “We’ll live through worse.”
For as much pessimism comes spouting out of Colohan’s mouth, when coupled with the roaring riffs of Andrus Meret and Pat Marshall, it ultimately comes across as a burned man’s determination to live for the moment, regardless of whatever hell he’ll walk through tomorrow. With that spirit and an overflowing supply of hooks and pyrotechnic guitar licks, Burning Love fuels that energy into a hardcore album that places fun as its number one priority.
Stream: Burning Love – “Karla”