It's a radically different world in metal from the time when EARTH CRISIS first raged out of New York state. We've seen militants riled by their pro-vegan, anti-cruelty message make national news when they've liberated animals and torched fur farms. We watched as the once-insular world of hardcore grew exponentially, merged with the metal scene and became big business to successive generations. We've seen a nation of militant straight-edgers get old and slink, one by one, to the bar, each with their own surly comeback for anyone who noticed the co-existence of their neck tattoos and beer guts. And we saw EARTH CRISIS themselves go out in a cloud of derision as they tried to expand the straitjacket of hardcore expectations with 2001's "Slither" album, only to be met with empty concert halls and the scorn of a scene full of hoodie-bedecked naysayers.
What you shouldn't expect in 2009 is a drop of dilution in the seriousness of the EARTH CRISIS message. These guys are still vegan, they're still straight-edge, and they want you to know that the money you spend on recreational substances funds violence and mayhem on a scale al-Qaeda can't match (see "Security Threat"). In short, time has only stoked their righteous fervor, and perhaps as a result, the music is back to its most stripped-down, bone-basic fundamentals. This is some grim, downtuned, sinewy hardcore minimalism, heavy on the breakdowns and crushing double-fisted chords, with just the barest hint of guitar melody adding a little breathing space to the proceedings. Karl Buechner is at his throat-flayed best here, screaming indictments with a righteous mighty roar, his vocal riding atop these primal metalcore anthems, nothing being offered here that would be out of place in 1995.
And anyone complaining about that needs to get out of metal. These guys always had two things going for them — their message and their fury — and both of those are lethally on-point on "To the Death". While "To Ashes" and "Security Threat" at least offer up rudimentary guitar hooks come chorus times, elsewhere it's all downpicking, chugging triplets, and tank-tread rhythms guaranteed to snap bones — though even the primally brutal "When Slaves Revolt" offers up a short, melodic guitar solo. It's as if EARTH CRISIS found little nooks and crannies in which to put the occasional bit of ear candy, without losing sight of the overall head-down pummel that's made them so viscerally satisfying for so long.
All fancy analysis, political differences and philosophical debates aside, putting on the new EARTH CRISIS record will make you want to roam the streets like a zombie on Red Bull until you find the closest and most violent pit you can fling yourself into. That, and the band's uncompromising stance, make "To the Death" a welcome return to the active roster from a band whose influence on the entire spectrum of modern-day metal is almost never fully credited. EARTH CRISIS have delivered nothing more and nothing less than brutal, split-knuckles, blood-and-guts hardcore from the band that taught all your other favorite bands how it's done.