South African hardcore is pretty fucking dead. There are a few bands, a few shows, and a few people keeping the genre, in some variation or the other, “alive”, but it’s a far cry from the glory days of spin kicking your friends in the face and running around in a circle to indiscernible noise with a couple hundred people. The old hardcore scene has grown up and largely moved on to jobs that are the anti-thesis to the music they grew up listening to… or just other things. The current crop of impressionable youths who, once, might have thrown down to Go! Go! Bronco, now get psychedelic with the likes of Black Math. Things change, you know?
I think somebody forgot to tell that to Life Below.
Life Below are four dudes who grew up in the Durban hardcore scene and have become one of the last living reminders that it ever existed. Mitch Harper (vox), James Strachan, (guitar/vox) Steven Ilbury (bass) and Brendan Meintjes (drums) all got involved in their community of stage dives and high fives when they were teenagers. I remember sharing many a moshpit in churches and dive bars with each of them. If I remember the story correctly, Mitch, Brendan and Steve started a death metal band when they were 15, but they never played any shows. Brendan and James later formed We Were Archers, who managed to gain a few fans, but suffered from not sounding like the local bands who were cool at the time. Then the scene kinda dissolved around them despite all of Steve’s efforts with Noisefix – a blog turned production/promotion company that focuses on bringing over international hardcore and metal bands. All the bigger bands broke up, nobody really filled their place, and the scene moved on to pop-punk and popping pills to EDM. So, naturally, in 2014, in twilight of the once flourishing Durban hardcore scene, the 4 of them got together to start Life Below.
Since then, they’ve put out a solid first offering with their ‘I’ EP and earned a reputation for having one of the most passionate and energetic live shows in the country. Much wailing, gnashing of teeth and things of that nature. But that’s not why we’re gathered here today, dearly beloved. We are gathered here because last week they put out, for my money, the second best hardcore release to come out of the country after Conqueror’s ‘Life on Repeat’.
Grim Reality is ferocious, fierce and fucking phenomenal. It kicks off at breakneck speed with ‘Idle Hands’ and only slows down (barely) for the odd break-down and for track 4, ‘Heavy Chains’, the noticeably slowest track on the 7 and a half minute, 5 track long EP. Life Below don’t mince words and they don’t waste time. They know how to fill a short space of time with a hell of a lot of noise, whilst still giving you a bit of space every now and then to catch your breath. It’s chaos and disorder woven into melody. Grim Reality is the culmination of 4 cats growing up on metal and hardcore making the music they want to hear. The death metal influence still shows with their love of blast beats and furious riffage but they mix it deftly with punchy break-downs and Mitch’s vocals are distinctly pissed-off hardcore.
Grim Reality is like a punch to a Nazi’s face, violent yet satisfyingly so. It hits hard and quick, but leaves you feeling cathartic. While hardcore may be “dead”, it doesn’t really matter. Life Below have put out one of the best hardcore releases in South African history, regardless of what’s popular now, which, at the end of the day, embodies the spirit of what hardcore is meant to be.
Life Below will be launching Grim Reality this Friday at The Winston Pub in Durban. They’re joined by Scrapyard Bones, Codes and Violence. Here’s the Facebook event.
Below is a taste of Grim Reality. Give it a listen.