There are certain things one comes to expect from a grindcore album – a relentless assault of punishing rhythms, variations on hardcore and death metal riffs, maybe some gore, maybe some leftist politics, and songs that rarely make it past 90 seconds. Minus the gore, for the most part, these are all part of the formula for Liberteer, the solo anarcho-grind project from California’s Matthew Widener, who has also put in some hours in goregrinders Exhumed. But with Liberteer, Widener leaps well beyond the expected boundaries of what grindcore should be, and adds elements that generally one might not find in your typical grind bruise fest, like, for instance, a surprisingly elegant use of horns, which kick off Better to Die On Your Feet Than Live On Your Knees‘ first track “The Falcon Cannot Hear the Falconer.”
One continuous piece of music split into 17 tracks, Better to Die is an album with a lot of innovation, a lot of character and a lot of anger, but in a relatively short span of time, falling just short of 27 minutes. Employing a fierce, anarchist political agenda, Widener drops track titles like “Class War Never Meant More Than It Does Now,” “99 to 1” and “That Which is Not Given But Taken.” Suffice it to say, he’s probably not lining up to support Mitt Romney in November, though he’s just as likely to want to take the entire system down, from the sounds of it. And the hyper-speed brutal hardcore Widener hammers out is just the sort of ass kicking soundtrack to bring about the kind of revolution the album seems to demand. However, it’s not all system-fucking chaos. In fact, there are some truly magnificent moments of majestic arrangements, from the banjo and horn instrumental in “Rise Like Lions After Slumber,” to the powerful introduction of horns in the catchily brutal “Build No System.”
Preconceptions about grindcore will only get you so far with an act like Liberteer. Though it’s certainly too fast, too hard and too loud to be anything else, it’s a safe bet that even the most avid grinders probably haven’t heard anything quite like this. Just when even the most extreme music begins to sound a little too familiar, leave it to someone like Mathew Widener to take it into brave new territory.
Exhumed – All Guts No Glory
Noisear – Subvert the Dominant Paradigm
Cretin – Freakery
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.