Literally ‘live, conform, die’, 生 Conform 死 are the mind-blowing purveyors of hardcore/nu metal you never knew you needed. Forming in 2015, the Perth based five piece are following on from their Vol I: Cigarette Lullaby EP (2016) with debut album Circa 94, releasing this Friday, 18th May. As the antithesis of their band name, 生 Conform 死 seem to have collated the best of multiple genres over the last 20+ years; creating a ‘brand’ of listening experience which is never dull, never predictable, and 100% non-conforming.
“Blood Eagle” was the first taste of Circa 94, and an impressive one at that. I personally and professionally listen to a lot of music, and according to Spotify, “Blood Eagle” is easily my most played song over the last month. So a fresh collection of ten tracks from 生 Conform 死 comes with high expectations and a massive amount of internal hype from this music writer lady.
“Bang your head but don’t break your neck,
Break backs but don’t hang your friends out to dry”
Album opener “Roman Holiday” happily fits right into that hype. Starting like a massive tease and a riff stuttering call to slam around, “Roman Holiday” is a perfect ‘first track’. The longest on the album, this wow-level epic already had me speechless and wondering how I’m possibly going to be able to put Circa 94 into words. Guitar squeals, ever-present/ever-pleasant melodic riffs, vocal intensity, and drum fire combine to a multi-layered build-up into a more anthemic chorus.
Drum focus brilliantly and statically thuds us into a segue of distortion to a steady stream of syllables, growled intensity, and what seems like a homage of sorts “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. It’s a (brief) face-smash variant of ‘load up on guns and bring your friends’ that works so well in this song. A bass groove then brilliantly pulls focus and a looped riff joins in before multiple layers unite to say: ‘We’re all fucked together, it’s a dying world, we don’t have to be dead to fix our heads’. As well as a dark stance on reality, the track seems like an invitation to connect and support without screwing each other up, as well as taking personal responsibility. The end of this fiery piece of music is incredibly satisfying, where steady beats, relentless driving riffs, and even/monotone vocals relatively humming ‘in our head we won’t admit / we’re the ones at fault’.
I’m only one track in and I’ve already played “Roman Holiday” at least 10 times in the process of getting to know it, and feel like I need a cold shower or something to ease some of the buzz I feel. Instead I decided to message the band and gush profusely. The Circa 94 hype is real. Jesus christ.
Second track “Deicide” punches from the word go; a stompier, angrier, heavier track with a greater sense of doom hanging over it than the previous epic. A guitar string pick ride heralds a rap focus, seeming at odds with the previous aggression but it works nonetheless. There’s a skin-crawling sense of falling into a pit while ravens hover above.
Slamming beats and an overwhelm of layers create an eeriness and a fear-fueled push to RUN. Sound effects, static, hair-raising riffs, collisions and ear-to-ear movements create a soundscape of being pursued, harassed, and even controlled. Understand that there is a lot going on in each of these songs and it’s a task and a half to translate it into words. I can assure you it is one heck of an impressive ride that I’m happy to be on.
I’m a massive massive fan of the bass riff at the (disintegrating) outro of “Deicide” (at the 3 minute mark), as well as the echoey pulsing and beat-fest leading into the fade out. Circa 94 keeps providing the goods and I couldn’t be happier about it.
“Eat More Death” is what it would sound like if there was a lone turntable playing vinyl from the 1960s and someone set it on fire. Haunting old-school samples come surrounded by huge (no really, I mean HUGE) stepping down riffs that are addictive and a fiery sense of frustration. The verses are more fluid, yet fully immersive, where grooving beats get space to be heard.
“But I’m fine on my own! With all of my demons, the ones that I know”
Around halfway through “Eat More Death” the aforementioned fire has more fuel added to it and everything is deliciously intensified on all sonic fronts. Unified rhythms across the whole band that seem led by voice are intriguing to ‘watch’, as is the mysterious feeling this track has. The ending sample of “Desperate Man Blues” by Daniel Johnston further adds to the lowness and eeriness being painted here (“There ain’t no comfort in this life, anymore / All that I can see that’s ahead of me / Looks like such a chore”).
“I’ve been dead inside since 1994”
The furious and grooving “Blood Eagle” follows. It should be noted that the production on this album is incredibly well done: Our attention is cleanly directed to where it needs to go, or we’re relevantly flooded in sound. Where “Blood Eagle” sits in the progression of the tracks we’ve heard so far on Circa 94 makes its sense of fight and refusal seem even stronger than as a standalone piece of music. The brilliant and beautiful track captures a sense of fighting for more out of life than what seems to exist, while also not truly believing there is anything more at all. Though I don’t have the album lyrics, the track could be seen as a continuation of the themes in “Eat More Death”.
Every listen I’ve taken of “Blood Eagle” has highlighted different elements in amongst the multi-layered complexity, showcasing the skill going into what’s been created. Whether it’s drumming acrobatics, slick bass moves, or soaring guitars at the bridge, there’s so much to consume here.
“Six Years, Sick Fears” was the second of two singles released in the lead up to Circa 94‘s release and is a crushingly brutal track. Vocalist Troy Van Der Meer shared that the track was about the investment a vocalist makes in order to keep their ‘instrument’ in good condition, the risks they take when they push themselves, and the deeply disheartened state that results when the effort poured in doesn’t pay off. Troy says that “Six Years, Sick Fears” pays ode to every vocalist that has ever put their voice on the line to create music they are passionate about.
“I gave you everything, you never gave a fuck”
“Six Years, Sick Fears” is intense in its frustration, and slitheringly sinks down into realisations of time spent and wasted. Distortion, static, and thudding beats, create a density of pulling all the pieces together and being stronger than before, despite what seemed like attempts to ruin them. The layering of somberly expressed vocals, with a ‘corrupted’ voice and building noise works really well to express this; breaking free into a more determined state of mind (“I’mma get mine / Rain Armageddon”).
Shout out to the shitkicking ending from 2:48 which is just perfection. One heck of a way to have the sonic last word in the situation.
Buried in static, “Yellow Jacket” pulls us spinning and into overwhelm with pummeling drums and wild riffage. The fast paced and hectic track is tough to keep up with, which is fitting as to the topic of loss of control. With a slight ease in intensity at the chorus, it becomes clearer that the band are expressing their band name. In the ‘9 to 5 wasted life’ we live, conform, and die.
With money as the driver, we’re with 生 Conform 死 as they create a soundscape of having us be drawn in and consumed by something we don’t necessarily want to be part of. We’re drained and mowed down by the machine of life. I don’t know the inspiration behind the title, but I can’t help but think of the status symbol of the yellow jacket that Shooter McGavin wears in the movie Happy Gilmore; similarly touching on the idea of money and status as the goal.
I’m going to miss being able to hear bass so clearly audible in future music I listen to when this review is over. Shout out to unheard bassists, and shout out to “Yellow Jacket”‘s massive outro of heaviness after a momentary pause.
“I like your kind, but the only thing you’re good for is wasting time”
The seventh track “Vicious Thoughts” is an unexpected moment of clarity, featuring water sound effects and piano. The 1:56 track is beautiful yet kind of haunting in its own way. Call it an anti-love song or just being honest about where they’re at in a relationship; wanting to be alone. Echoing voice and lone guitar are part of this spilling of thought which adds something to Circa 94 that I’m not entirely sure how to put into words yet.
“Gaslight Sunset” seems like a grunge and hardcore mashup of the disintegration of a relationship. Heavy crashes, drum intensity, scratching sounds, and eerie riffs craft a scene fraught with conflict. The ‘gaslight’ reference points toward emotional manipulation in the connection, and the fiery track hits dramatic and raw sense of finality. As is verbalised, there’s freedom in not being ‘loved’ in an experience of abuse and manipulation. The piano lightness involved in this otherwise heavy track treads the line between introspective honesty and outward action of “Enough is enough”. It’s well done in its sense of overwhelm and siphoning of the will to keep giving.
Second last on Circa 94 takes us back to Sample Land. “Crawl” is a seemingly more light-hearted breather after the intensity of the previous track. Fluid and multi-layered and hard to grasp onto anything firm, melting music and bouncing beats add to a stream-of-thought style of lyric. The tumbling and dripping vocals add to this melting pot of observation about what we’re doing to ourselves as a society/generationally.
“Where do I go from here? I am so fucking sick of all of my fears”
I really want Circa 94 to go out with a bang and 生 Conform 死 don’t disappoint with “Cyanide”. Taking a piece of Gorillaz’s “Clint Eastwood” and making it their own, “Cyanide” also does a drive-by of Soundcloud rap city with a flame thrower. The track feels like a dumping of frustrations and a mentally intense crossroads of sorts. Halfway through the track this becomes more obvious, where an isolated and damp darkness of questioning thuds outward toward the listener. The repeated lyric, whether growled or sung melodically, reinforces the stuckness. With no clear resolution, heavy riffs, feedback squeals and a tiny melody have us virtually staring at a ‘To Be Continued..’ screen, 生 Conform 死-style.
God that was good. Circa 94 is a breath-holding schooling by 生 Conform 死 about their life questions. Oomph is given with hardcore intensity and curiosity is fed by ever-changing genre-bleeding recklessness of expression. That’s not to say 生 Conform 死 don’t care about what they’re making. There’s a clear amount of attention to detail here, having none of the tracks feel like ‘filler’.
生 Conform 死 are roaring with Circa 94, railing against expectations, manipulation, and authority. The album is a solid statement and showcase of what they’re capable of as a band; easily at home in hard drown-you-in-noise aggression as they are in ‘please help me’ intimacy. The use of samples and effects adds personality and emotional depth to what’s being shared with the impressive instrumentation and vocals.
This is hands down the most uniquely creative album I’ve reviewed. Circa 94 is going to blow minds in some kind of exponentially growing outward ripple when it releases tomorrow.
This highly anticipated beast of a thing was all that I hoped: unique, captivating, crushingly heavy at times, beautiful at others. Honest expression and precision instrumentation crafted with care into a truly impressive album.