The biggest criticism I have of (a lot of, but not all) modern heavy music is that it sounds too clean. Yes, bands will use a lot of distortion on their guitars and the drummers play ferociously but due to the sheer amount of time spent polishing the tracks in post-production, it ends up sounding, for lack of a better term, wishy-washy. What could have been a gritty production gets compressed and cleaned up so much that the music no longer sounds heavy. A huge exception to this trend is Nails.
Nails is a powerviolence band from Oxnard, California. Since the release of their debut album ‘Unsilent Death’ in 2010, Nails have become experts in playing extremely aggressive and angry music. The first I heard of them was their second album ‘Abandon All Life’ which was released in 2013. After listening to that, I decided that it was one of the heaviest and most aggressive albums I had ever heard. Considering that I’ve been listening to extreme music for a decade, I don’t take that statement lightly. Particularly, the difference between Nails’ sound and that of aforementioned ‘clean’ metal bands was what really appealed to me. Not only was the production incredibly raw, but the songs themselves had a no-holds-barred approach to producing extremely chaotic and heavy music. Basically, I thought Nails had reached their zenith. Then I heard ‘You Will Never Be One Of Us’.
The titular first track pretty much sums up everything that Nails is about. Chaotic atonal riffs, blast beats, and demonic screaming from vocalist/guitarist Todd Jones herald the start of this album and they continue through its entirety. This album also continues the use of Nails’ gnarly guitar tone which sounds very much like the ‘buzzsaw’ sound that was pioneered by Swedish death metal bands such as Entombed and Dismember. Though the tone is similar to that of their previous two releases, Todd Jones’ playing now incorporates more solos. Indeed, this hardly surprising seeing as the band cites Slayer as a major influence on this album. I’d even go so far as to say that a lot of the solos on this album sound like they could have been performed by Kerry King. However, the final track ‘They Come Crawling Back’ is a departure from Nails’ usual blink-and-you’ll-miss-it approach to writing songs. Indeed, at 8 minutes and 14 seconds, it’s by far their longest track to date and instead of assaulting us with fast and chaotic aggression, Nails assaults us with slow and chaotic aggression that sounds like our ear drums are being ground up an in industrial compactor. Though Nails do have their slower, sludgier moments, closing the album with this track almost seems like a bit of respite after the nine which preceded it.
Though this album still bares all of Nails’ trademark sounds, there are a few differences between ‘You Will Never Be One Of Us’ and their previous works. The most notable of these can be heard in the drumming. Along with the blast beats and D-beats that Nails’ fans are very familiar with, drummer Taylor Young has incorporated more double bass drumming on this album. A good example of this is on the song ‘Violence is Forever’ which uses double bass rolls during the song’s chorus. When coming in from the song’s somewhat groovy verses, the double bass drumming sounds more like a heavy machine gun than a piece of musical equipment. This is the same on the album’s opening titular track. The fact that Young restricts the double bass rolls to the chorus creates a good contrast between the track’s sections, something which can be difficult to achieve when the music is at this level of aggression. Despite praising this drumming method, the only criticism I have of this album is that the guitar sound isn’t as prominent due to the drums being higher in the mix.
While the drumming certainly has changed on this album, many of the other features have stayed the same. Along with the aforementioned guitar tone, Jones’ vocals are just as gritty as they always have been. So too are his lyrics. Some of them focus on problems with the world such as on the track ‘Savage Intolerance’.
A nation in trepidation
Drones over homes
Watching the world explode
Terror; a violent extermination
Fear spreading hate
Deep roots in abuse
Commentary on the heavy music scene is also covered in the titular track which, oddly enough despite its title, is actually about inclusiveness.
Fuck your trends, fuck your friends
Fuck your groupies that try to pretend that you’re down
You’re fucking not
Nobody wants what you’ve fucking got
You will never be one of us
Our pain is not your pain
Our pride is not your pride
In an interview, Jones states that “We purposely make music that’s like a hammer to the skull.” In my opinion, this basically sums up Nails’ music. Except, it’s not just one hammer, it’s multiple hammers that deliver different types of blows. The drumming, the guitar tone, the chaotic (have I used that word enough?) notes and rhythms, the bleak lyrics, the raw production, all these elements come together to form an album that’s even more violent than its preceding two. Blending all these hammer hits together on the one skull has resulted in what I would definitely consider to be Nails’ best album to date.