False Flowers is the latest full-length from the Seattle-based hardcore trio City of Industry, out this week on Amerikan Aesthetics Records. The record fights against the stereotype of hardcore as a one-dimensional music based on cathartic blasts of raw aggression, offering instead a multi-faceted listening experience that nevertheless doesn’t deviate too far from its inspirations.

The question that this record inspires is whether to focus on the traditional elements or the more experimental ones, and the truth is they are inseparable. The opening combo of  “Kronstadt” and the title track lays this mixture out immediately.  “Kronstadt” is a duet between piano and violin(!) that segues into “False Flowers,” which combines the fury of head-nodding hardcore with an inventive alternating structure that owes its moves just as much to the noise-rock continuum as it does traditional moshpit fuel. While it is certainly heavy, the back-and-forth between the vocals and guitars and the rhythm section shows an immediate command of dynamics that is unusual compared to many of their peers. Halfway through the tune, everything drops out and then returns in a sludgier and more minimalist setting, bringing to mind the idiosyncratic work of post-black metal weirdos Mamaleek. The tune fades out with an old-time patriotic radio tune that sends the atmosphere into even more unusual places.

The album chugs along in an unpredictable fashion as it progresses, but it also keeps the songs short and packs the band’s ambitions into what are still at their core punk songs. “Equinox” is a more traditional hardcore tune, but contains some impressive and technically astute drumming to help forge its identity. Other than the rhythmic nimbleness, it’s a short, sweet blast, except for another time-machine blast of blues guitar that pops up at the end.

City of Industry pushes the boundaries further the longer False Flowers continues. “Broken Cisterns Hold No Water” walks a fine line between Converge and postpunk. And they manage to work in an extended psychedelic guitar solo as well. “What a Time to Be Alive” moves from heaviness to a sampled speech to a dreamy bit of shoegaze in less than three minutes, and segues seamlessly into the melodic post-hardcore of “Who Sleeps in Darkness.” Meanwhile, “Embracing the Morals of the Pig” is a sludge-grindcore mashup that expresses all the vitriol it can in under a minute.

The album ends with “The Vain, His Vanity.” The juxtaposition between this and the previous track is startling, moving from rage to tranquility in a matter of seconds. The majority of the song takes the form of a rustic yet upbeat instrumental, like a mash-up of Dirty Three and Giant Sand. It then finds its way to a less than thirty-second blast of hardcore, and finally ends with a bit of somber solo piano because why not? This absolutely shouldn’t work, but it does, and the song is both a summation and testament to City of Industry’s considerable ambition.

False Flowers is a multi-faceted release, full of dynamic interplay, varying moods and judicious use of samples to create a deeper listening experience. Yet City of Industry does it all within the framework of punk and hardcore. Heaviness and cathartic emotion abound, and despite the surprising number of elements they incorporate, none of the songs exceed four minutes, and most of them are less than two. It’s a tightrope walk but one the group performs effortlessly. This album expands upon hardcore, without ever leaving it behind.

Todd Manning

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