According to most of my Facebook friends, 2016 was a “Dumpster-fire." While I do not fully subscribe to the notion, I do understand where the frustrations were coming from. The plethora of police shootings, abundant economic inequality and above all else this godless election that came closer to tearing the country apart than at any point in the past 40 years, these were all things worthy of profound dread and disillusionment.
Enter Squalor the third full length from South Jersey grind unit Ground. These guys follow a recent trend of bands like Nails and Harm Done by incorporating tough guy hardcore mosh parts into the blast beat driven formula of traditional grindcore. I would argue that of these bands, Ground does it the best, treating the grindcore sections not as filler between breakdowns but as actual sections of music worthy of time and attention. This pattern coalesces into some of the most dynamic heavy music currently being crafted. Each face-destroying blast of snare punishment makes the resulting caveman mosh part that much more intense due to the rapid tempo change required.
Squalor is more than just a really great grind record, at least to me. I have always seen this specific sub-genre as the ultimate catharsis, an outlet for only the deepest, darkest resentments and disgust. That disgust is very present on this record. In the context of the most recent election, it is definitely an outburst of angry defiance. But, knowing the guys in this band personally, I also feel the album is a statement on the stagnation that most of us have to face as we get older. It’s the frustrations of economic insecurity blended with contempt for a younger generation who sees fit to dress you down from their false moral high horse and an older generation who deem it ridiculous to still be playing in a metal band at the age of 30. Yet it’s also about the realization that this might be as good as it gets and if that’s the case, then that really sucks.
One of my favorite memories of this past year was driving down to Maryland Deathfest in May and seeing these guys tear up the Soundstage in Baltimore. Of the earlier bands to play that day, no one had the pit going like Ground did, a whirling tornado of elbows, beer and flat brim hats. After the show I remember talking to guitarist Mike Mayo, formerly of Waking The Cadaver, a world renowned Death Metal outfit in their own right. I specifically remember him saying “I’m kind of disappointed now that we’ve played MDF, where is there to go from here?” It was a surprising statement from a man who had worked so hard to get his band to the point where it was, but it was also shockingly true. There really is not a very high ceiling for a grindcore band, playing fests like these is basically as good as it’s going to get. In the same way, for many of us, quiet comfortability and muted frustration is the best we can hope, never quite achieving our dreams but also never quite hitting rock bottom either.
I hate to say it but Squalor may be the most mid-life crisis grindcore album ever, which is exactly why it resonated with me more so than the countless other albums I’ve listened to this past year. There’s an undeniable level of desperation and disgust present here and perhaps firmly nestled somewhere in that dark cloud of anger is the resolve to never give up and to stay true to yourself, even if you are a 30 year old playing in a metal band from Jersey.
Ground: Facebook // Bandcamp