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Hardcore

A Boxcutter To The Brain:
PEACE TEST’s Pry

All good hardcore is cathartic and confrontational, but it is the rare hardcore band that creates a sonic climate of aggression that is so sincere that one feels personally threatened by the musicians. In particular, these bands feature vocalists so convincingly angry, so fumingly combative, that one might be reluctant to visit the merch booth just in case they really are as ready to throttle the next person who talks to them as they appear on stage. John Brannon is like this. Human Furnace is like this. Antonio Marquez is like this. And Peace Test‘s Nolan Cambra is like this.

Photo by Carl Gunhouse.

Cambra’s junkyard bark feels so immediate and so personal that one would think that they had just dented the Peace Test touring van as the band was parking for the night’s show, or that they had tripped over the PA cable and cut the sound right as the opening song was engaging the crowd. One feels the need to apologize as his envenomating spit oozes from the headphones.

When Cvlt Nation reviewed Peace Test’s debut EP, Uniform Repression, here, I compared Cambra’s emotionally multifaceted delivery to the voices of Matt Korvette, John Hoffman, and the aforementioned Brannon. On the eagerly awaited debut LP, Pry, though, Cambra sounds totally singular. Similarly, the band as a unit, which on Uniform Repression invited comparisons to No Tolerance, Think I Care, The Rival Mob, Infest, Weekend Nachos, and Protester, now sounds not only tighter but more individual, carving their own face into the Mt. Rushmore of New England hardcore greats.

Jeff. Photo by Todd Pollock.

Having only formed as a project for Cambra and the legendary Trevor Vaughan in 2018, and having only been a full band since 2020, Peace Test has no business sounding this experienced, this tight, powerful. While the knuckle-dragging tough-guy hardcore that made Uniform Repression such an instant favorite is even more callous and barrel-chested on Pry than on previous releases, Peace Test integrate more speed and more rhythmic variation, taking risks with their stylistic formula as only a band fully at ease with the excellence of their songwriting, musicianship, and creative chemistry can do.

As the first single “40%” signaled with its gang vocals, two-stepping sections, and old school West Coast power violence ebb and flow, Peace Test has armed itself with anything in the hardcore weapons stockpile that will do the job of putting holes in anything but the most genuine and raw punk out there. Fans of earlier Peace Test releases, all of whom have been spreading the band’s gospel, evangelizing to anyone who will listen. Those fans, who knew that anything the band had up its sleeves as a follow-up to Uniform Repression would be a reckoning for any bands putting out anything but the most heartfelt, uncompromising hardcore this year. “40%” was an affirmation of that prediction. This song, a tirade against the climate of violence and lack of accountability for said violence for police officers, on and off the clock, lays bare and simple the tragically consistent statistic of domestic violence by those who are entrusted to “keep violent people off the street.”

Opening title track, “Pry,” commences with the feedback and hunchbacked mid-tempo knuckle-dragging that made Uniform Repression such a stand out in 2020. This track serves as an onramp for the fourteen tracks “hammer in your skull” raw and metallic punk that proceeds, escalating into an automatic nail gun rhythm that bridges into “Combat Boot,” a head-bobbing diatribe against stolen valor and chicken-hawks, those who glamorize war and wear it like fashion while never dreaming of putting themselves in harm’s way. This track demonstrates early on just how far the already-amazing band has come in such a short amount of time. With more complex rhythmic transitions and more memorable chord patterns and melodies, Peace Test is proving that they aren’t content with being one of the best hardcore groups around; they’re coming for the crown. Even hardcore fans who hate everything but that one demo by that one band no one has ever heard of are going to have to make an exception for Pry.

The thirty-two seconds in “Dose” hearken back to early California powerviolence–especially La Revancha-era Spazz–due to the rapidity of the song’s stylistic shifts. The song, though short, takes aim at an unspecified addiction of the escapist variety. While the lyrics hint at straight-edge themes, the song’s vagueness includes all the things we do to avoid interacting with the harsh realities of life. Whether they be chemicals or simply toxic and avoidant behaviors, they all contribute to our own loss of life. In less time than it takes the average band to tune, Peace Test goes from grinding blast beats to ringing out open chords to d-beat mania. Meanwhile, every vitriolic word is steaming out through Cambra’s gritting teeth.

Throughout Pry, it is clear that the band, only recently a studio-only one-or-two-man project, has found a special chemistry between its musicians, managing to translate a live energy to a studio space, which is especially impressive considering the band’s historic reluctance to play live with any regularity and overall opposition to touring. Due to the already high and ever-mounting demand for Peace Test to come to every hardcore fan’s nearest venue, the band may have to make some compromises and simply cope with the fact that they are making music that everyone wants to hear face-to-face.

The dueling guitars of Matt Smith and Cedrick Gustave blare over Mitty’s chest-thumping bass, which achieves the impossible by keeping up with their frenzied guitar parts whenever his catchy walking lines don’t take their own stomping path. All the while, Jeff Novak manages against all odds to keep the Peace Test machine in one piece despite every hairpin turn and every instantaneous speed limit shift. These stylistic changes are especially apparent in the album’s closing two tracks. “No Advocate,” a song that feels very specific but at the same time familiar enough to apply to that one guy in every local scene whose posturing and imposition is enough of a thorn in everyone’s side that he becomes a scapegoat, public enemy #1. The song’s driving circle-pitter, driving and metallic, before it transitions into the splendid and surprising coda, whose reverb and chord voicings sound like they could be an homage to Fucked Up‘s Hidden World. “Accomplice” is the pure distillation of the band’s foaming hate, directed at anyone and everyone, with a hand on the handle of some clawhammer, just waiting for the next careless person to make the wrong move. The song recalls some earlier Peace Test songs, such as “Tears of a Clown,” with its soaring wails of guitar lines, but its also evidence that, despite the years of getting things off their chest, Peace Test is more righteously pissed off than ever before.

Peace Test vocalist spent some time with Cvlt Nation to talk about the band and the excellent new album.

First, can you introduce the members of Peace Test and any other projects they want to promote?

We have Jeff on Drums, Mitty on Bass, Matt and Cedrick on Guitar, and Myself on Vocals. No other projects are currently in the works.

Uniform Repression made a quick impact on the world of hardcore. What were your thoughts on how to follow up that album’s success?

Very kind of you, thanks. We just wanted to keep writing songs to play a set longer than 9 minutes. Hoping to write better songs in the process, which I think we’re achieving.

Matt. Photo by Todd Pollock.

Can you describe the writing process for Pry? What were some major musical influences? Lyrical influences?

Uniform Repression took a while to be put out so, I believe we had at least a few songs for Pry written by the time UR was released. For the LP, it was much more of a collaborative effort than the previous releases. A lot of “Riff” videos are sent to the band group chat and we flesh those ideas out at the next practice and build from there. Musically, our influences have a range from the Powerviolence greats, New Bedford Hardcore, Boston Hardcore (the good era(s)), and a splash of the classic NYHC stompers. Lyrically, I just think of something that goes with the music, I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind or teach anything. Just angry rants.

Nolan. Photo by Todd Pollock.

To Live A Lie also released Uniform Repression. What has it been like to work with Will Butler?

Will rules! He’s been super easy to work with on these records. It’s wild that To Live A Lie is a One-Man operation on top of his full-time job. Endless respect to him and all he does.

Cedrick Gustave has been responsible not only for playing guitar but also for contributing art to most Peace Test releases and merch. How does his art fit with the band’s aesthetic?

Cedrick is a talented guy, always really impressed with his output. Sometimes I give him ideas and the final product is beyond what I envisioned in my head. There would be no real aesthetic without him. 

Cedrick. Photo by Todd Pollock.

You weren’t really able to promote Uniform Repression through much performing or touring, but you’ve been a part of some really amazing concert lineups lately. What has it been like to return to live music?

It’s been good, every member of the band is cool with not playing very often but, the few shows back have all been great. When we started, we agreed to never tour and we have tours lined up now so, I think we’re all getting more enjoyment out of it now than ever before.

How would you describe the hardcore scene in New England right now? Who are some bands that deserve more national attention?

I’d say pretty good. Admittedly, I don’t attend as many shows as I should, but life gets in the way. The Providence Punk Scene really blew up seemingly out of nowhere, a ton of new bands popping up. Credit to everyone who runs those shows and the band Bullet Proof Backpack for representing the Youth. As far as bands that deserve more attention: Pummel, Internal, and Wound Man. The new Wound Man record is incredible. I was lucky enough to yell on a few of the tracks. Trevor Vaughan will go down in history as having one of the best résumés in all of hardcore. “New Bedford, Don’t you forget”.

What do you love about hardcore right now? What should change?

Hardcore is ever-evolving, it won’t be the same tomorrow as it is today, for better or worse. 

What should people know about Peace Test? About Pry?

Nothing in particular, really, we write music for people to mosh to at shows. The more chaotic things are, the more we want to keep going. 

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

I want to say thank you to you, Evan. You’ve been a big supporter from day one and we’ve become friends and that rules. Other than that, thanks to anyone who read this or checked Peace Test out. 

Pre-order Pry through To Live A Lie Records.

Recorded and mastered by Will Killingsworth at Dead Air Studios.

Artwork by Cedrick Gustave.

Written By

Evan lives in Arizona and works as an English and History teacher. He loves to learn new things and meet new people.

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