When you’re listening to someone scream in a song, how does it feel? It might feel natural, a progressive buildup to a moment of passion. It might feel shocking, like jumping into the ocean on January 1st. It could feel deeply unpleasant, as if the singer was trying to make you uncomfortable for one reason or another. And it might feel somewhere in between, like a song’s natural state of being simply contains extremes. That’s the power of metal, the power of hardcore, and that’s the line that the British band Ithaca walks in its fantastic new album, They Fear Us.
If you don’t like screaming in music, if you believe that music should be pleasant and calming, that’s totally fine. But Ithaca could show you something you’ve been missing. The album opens with “In the Way,” which feels like a commentary on the act of creation. “It’s not a job, it’s a service / And I get paid in satisfaction,” sings Djamila Boden Azzouz, her voice filtered through distortion. “It’s not desire, it’s purpose / Feeding off the chain reaction.” And then the guitars start and the screams commence.
“Don’t say you can take it / Don’t think I won’t break it / Don’t try to hide your shaking / Don’t you know I know you’re faking?” she screams, and while it’s not clear who Azzouz is addressing, one can’t help but catch on. Then her voice is mediated again, this time through a calming, almost angelic background voice singing, “Here it goes …”
This is the appeal of melodic hardcore, the mixture of the sublime and the furious. It might just be the music needed to cross the cultural divide.
Recently, a tweet went viral expressing disbelief that anyone could listen to a song off Bjork’s Homogenic. Another TikTok hit the big time going after the noise band Body War, calling them the “worst.” These come amid a general pushback against extremes in art, thanks to everything from the “trad” movement to social media’s nasty habit of letting streaming and sales numbers determine art’s worth.
Ithaca likely won’t reach the top of the charts. But that’s not the point of all music. As Ithaca’s music switches between hardcore that needs written lyrics to understand and gorgeous harmonies, it’s easy to see the connections between the two. Ithaca pushes toward an emotional catharsis in their music, pulling a pincer movement of sonic harmony on tracks like “You Should Have Gone Back” and the album-ender “Hold, Be Held.”
“There is compassion here,” Azzouz sings at the end, her voice now easily understandable. An album that starts with furious rage and ends with compassion is one that takes its listener on a journey, no matter the genre. For a band that has dealt with sexism within the metal scene and Nazi trolls hounding their Facebook page, the title of the album makes all the sense in the world. They fear change. They fear something they can’t understand. But that doesn’t mean they’ll win. Melodic hardcore can change your life, if you let it. And you’ll never hear a scream the same way again.
David Meir Grossman is a writer living in Brooklyn. His Twitter feed is @davidgross_man.