Artists who reach a certain level of success encounter a classic dilemma: Are you willing to sacrifice your creative vision, your creative freedom, for popular recognition and financial reward? In the metal and punk genres, whose fans are always ready with swords drawn whenever one of their beloved creators shows any indication of kowtowing to mainstream tastes and “selling out,” this dilemma is especially pronounced as the tension to grow one’s audience often feels at odds with the subversiveness which is presumed to be a definitive trait of these styles. This tension is in addition to the push-pull they face to evolve as artists while remaining loyal to the sound that earned them recognition in the first place. Few artists manage to do all of this plate-spinning for long. Philadelphia’s Backslider, on the other hand, has done so for the last fifteen years, providing a masterclass in managing critical acclaim and popular admiration while also balancing fidelity to their roots and unceasing creative ingenuity.
Cvlt Nation’s love for Backslider is well-established, premiering a recent single and adding their most recent LP, Psychic Rot, to a 2022 Top 10 list. Many might assume that, after the monstrous artistic statement that Psychic Rot was, after the ceaseless touring they did in 2022 and most of 2023, they might enjoy some well-deserved rest and recuperation, allowing dust to settle and hoping that creative juices are restored. That is not how Backslider operates. If anything, touring with fellow heavy-hitting pioneers like Suppression, Soul Glo, Ixias, Cloud Rat, World Peace, and Triac has left them more inspired than ever. That is one of the only sound interpretations for a band producing an EP as fresh, innovative, potent, and explosive as Primordial Paranoia after so soon after their other career-defining artistic expenditures.
Comprising six tracks featuring their singular style, described by the band as “eternal microbursts of death-infested warp speed hardcore,” Primordial Paranoia shows a band that has never cared enough about fitting in to turn down a good idea, and every idea they have is a good one. In “Device” and “Purgatory,” the EP’s twin shortest tracks at 0:44 each, the band produces a subterranean magma flow of complex, fluid, and smelting hot riffs that careen, invert, and reverse in bizarro combination of Carcass and Lazer/Wulf. In these short tracks, the band reinforces what fans have always known: this is a band that produces more brilliant song ideas in a short track than most bands do in a long album.
Lest it sound like this release is “more of the same,” it must be emphasized that the band is also constantly exploring new sonic territory. Here, in addition to plunging fully into some proggy and jazzy elements into which they’d only dipped their toes before, they incorporate synths for transitions that give the whole production a retrofuturistic backdrop, John Carpenter and Tangerine Dream fighting over the rights to score a dark-windowed and damned skyline.
The first five tracks on this EP are neutron-star-dense with aural risks that most artists are loathe to take. And rightly so, for the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it time signature changes, eyebrow-raising stylistic shifts, spine-bending sonic texture terraforming, and absolutely prodigious musicianship would likely be a jagged mess in the hands of any other group. While Backslider has the ability to perfect and integrate sounds from all over the world of heavy music, no band could successfully imitate Backslider. They are just too complex and utterly impossible to pin down.
The band has somewhat built its reputation on its batteries of clusterbombs, ultra-short songs that offer rapid-fire riffs that come and go, each brilliant musical morsel leaving your consciousness just after it’s had a chance to become your favorite thing written this year. These firework exhibitions are impressive, thoughtful, thoroughly composed, and inventive, leaving no second wasted and no note excessive. The final track, “Panspermia,” provides a philosophical counterweight to the first five tracks. A My War Side 2 of sorts, this track acts in artistic antagonism to the Hellnation-meets-Hail of Rage-meets-The Locust cocktail on the would-be Side 1. On “Panspermia,” the band members loosen their collars and give their songs negative space, creating a mood of curiosity and swagger where precision and militance once dominated. If the first five tracks are Hot Rats, the final track is The Yellow Shark, exploratory, dark, and marinating. Featuring the guest talents of fellow experimental giant Dylan Walker, this track further proves just how fearless Backslider has become, as they manage to inject Mr. Bungle‘s jazzy and mathematic playfulness with Mind Eraser‘s white-lipped dystopianism.
The only thing keeping Backslider from being the key band to changing the entire hardcore landscape is that not one other band can do what they do. With any luck, though, more bands will take after their influence and dismantle their self-imposed strictures so that they, too, can find new and rare intersections of sound art.
Primordial Paranoia is the perfect testament to the fact that Backslider is not only literally amazing, but also important to the form. Their credo–and a message all musicians hoping to make something meaningful–seems to be in keeping with their consistent themes of class warfare: You have nothing to lose but your chains!
Pick up Primordial Paranoia at Malokul Industries.
Mastered by James Plotkin.