First, the admission: I didn’t know much about Don the Reader. Humanesque showed up, mysteriously, and the UPS guy looked fucking frightened as he passed the package to me. He had a look as though my package had been kicking the shit out of all of the other packages and he couldn’t wait to offload it and get the hell on with his day.
Second, the experience: I put Don the Reader’s Humanesque into the player, cranked the surround, and sat down. Big mistake. After a few minutes of face-shredding, 7-riffs-at-a-time hardcore madness, my whole body hurt. It was BDSM for my eardrums, a sonic torture chamber filled with screaming voices, swirling guitars, and hammering percussion. I fucking loved it.
Don the Reader is based out of Los Angeles. Wearing influences from Botch, The Dillinger Escape Plan, and Converge up front, their brand of hardcore is a technical assault fueled by inescapable pain and violence. Both invigorating and frightening, this is music for people that revel in the ache, blood, and broken bones of truly maniacal music.
And every so often, I love a good kick to the chin.
Humanesque isn’t all punches and shotgun shells, though, as there are moments of melodic tenderness hiding within the rage of vocalist Mike Roberts’ throat-shredding blasts. Drummer Kenny Cullens and bassist Michael McCullough form a solid backing rhythm section, unleashing a scourge of aggressive hammering from the pits of hell. Guitarist Sergio Hernandez rounds out the quartet, adding precision licks to the band’s insistence on off-kilter time signatures and multifaceted arrangements.
The instrumental “308” kicks things off and winds down like a robot looking for its last doses of strength. “Malfunction” rightfully kicks off from there, sweeping into existence with a bombardment of drum patterns bent on anarchy and treacherous vocal calisthenics from Roberts. The song starts, stops, speeds up, slows down.
Most of the cuts on Humanesque follow similar “all over the fucking place” patterns. “Teethgrinder” stabs itself repeatedly in the chest with knife-like guitar and roaring percussion. And “Hotwar” is a roasting track highlighted by Roberts’ rough vocals and a slice of tasty bass that punches through the shell.
“Con-sciolist” is a compelling track. It begins with more mathcore enormity, slicing riffs in and out at ostensibly random intervals with all of the amusement of a calculus undergraduate on meth. But as the song winds down, a spacious portion takes over and the song almost becomes an ambient track. A famed sample from Network is used to accent it.
Humanesque can be a gruelling album to listen to. Ripe with mathcore, hardcore, metalcore, and whatevercore, this is a record stuffed with noise and violent melodies. Extraordinarily elaborate and vociferously jarring, Don the Reader has composed a record that may be physically dangerous to listen to. At the very least, it scares the shit out of UPS guys.