There is a place where discordant notes collide in fitful harmonies; where tempos and time signatures shift like windblown sands, and where tormented howls echo from every shadow. That place, my friends, is The Mathcorner – and together we shall plumb its caliginous depths.
As in all jargon filled discussions, I feel it best to begin with a definition of terms. The bastion of genre-nerdiness, Wikipedia, defines mathcore as “a rhythmically complex and dissonant style of metalcore”, which is a perfectly reasonable way to describe mathcore. My only quibble would be that mathcore emerged more from metalcore’s stylistic antecedent, metallic hardcore, than from metalcore itself. Stay tuned for an elaboration of this argument and more exciting genre history in the next installment of The Mathcorner, as I begin a multi-part series on the origins and evolution of mathcore. But for now, let us focus on a more personal story of loss and discovery.
When I was but a young child, traditional song structures burned down my village. I was the only survivor, bearing the scars – both physical and emotional – to this very day. Since undergoing that horrific trauma, I have nursed an affection for the chaotic in metal, hardcore, and everything betwixt the two. In the interest of exorcising the demons of my youth and honoring my obsessions of the present, I will be using this column will survey the frenetic madness of mathcore, chaotic hardcore, and progressive metalcore.
Before beginning my love affair with mathcore, I developed an interest in the chaotic side of metalcore. Shortly after my tumble down the extreme music rabbit hole, I found myself inexorably drawn to the dissonant fury of early Norma Jean and the crazy-for-crazy’s-sake absurdity of The Number Twelve Looks Like You. As I would come to discover, I was traipsing down a trail of frenzied core bands that reaches its terminus with genre progenitors Botch, Converge, and The Dillinger Escape Plan.
This triumvirate of riotous racket-makers provided me with a crucial history lesson, giving me much-needed perspective on my growing passion for odd time signatures, seemingly random tempo changes, and unhinged caterwauling. They emboldened me to look deeper into these genres and subgenres; to spelunk down into the recesses of their extensive repertoires and particular histories. From Botch and Converge I gained a greater understanding of the technical and chaotic possibilities hardcore, while The Dillinger Escape Plan acquainted me with the progressive and experimental possibilities of metalcore.
Listening to mathcore’s foundational records, I began to grasp the unique appeal of this unapologetically erratic music. There is a delicate art to taming the unruly snarl of styles that come together to form mathcore, chaotic hardcore, and progressive metalcore. The creation of good music in these fusion-heavy genres are much like the creation of good sausages. Too coarse a grind and the individual elements stand apart, leaving a bunch of meat chunks shoved into a piece of intestine. Too fine, and the elements are obliterated, leaving an homogenized meat stick. A good sausage – and mathcore song – allows its constituent influences to mingle, while remaining distinct, resulting in an overall product that has a measured interplay between its flavors.
Investigating early mathcore necessarily inspired a desire to better understand its musical genealogy, a desire that led me to a whole host of excellent bands and albums of which I would have otherwise been woefully ignorant. Without pursuing the origins of mathcore, I would never have fallen in love with Hoover’s The Lurid Traversal Of Route 7 and would know nothing of The Shape Of Punk To Come. However, like any worthwhile search for knowledge, my exploration of mathcore has hitherto yielded more questions than answers. As I probe the limits of the genre, its boundaries become less clear; as I seek to define its nature, its essence becomes more opaque. Nonetheless, I’ve encountered plenty of music that warrants a listen or two and I’ll be writing about all of it here, in The Mathcorner. Welcome, friends.
Next week we’ll tackle some of mathcore’s earliest classics. Until then, enjoy this live video of The Number Twelve Looks Like You playing “Jay Walking Backwards”.