Nearly every hardcore track that drops these days demonstrates a mastery of the formulas that make them want to big-boot around the pit and roundhouse solo cups out of bystanders’ hands. The art of the breakdown has been standardized, so everyone can identify when the choreographed mosh parts should be inserted into the breakout new single. These are the songs that hit the listener right in the chest. Sometimes, though, a band will put out something so sincere, so real, that it instead zeroes in on the nervous system, electrifying the listener’s sacral plexus, and purging them of some deep spiritual muck that has polluted their life. On Grim New War, Drill Sergeant act as exorcists, conducting a ritual of profound rage to free the listener of their own darkness, all while creating unforgettable hardcore songs.
In 2020, Philadelphia’s Drill Sergeant emerged seemingly from nowhere to provide a master class on raw, venomous hardcore. Merging the brass-knuckled animosity of bands like The Impalers and Warthog with the frothing vocal fury of Cadaver Dog and Spine, Drill Sergeant’s songs have an urgency that demands the world’s attention. Vocalist Matthew Green has grabbed the listener by the ear, slammed their head into the wall, and screamed that they need to get with the program.
Sharing members with equally brilliant but stylistically far-afield bands Stud Count and Academy Order, Drill Sergeant retains the hooks and catchy song structure of those earworm-churning projects while simultaneously feeling like an outlet for every unexpressed violent impulse and intrusive thought one encounters through the day. These songs are full of frustration, incredulousness, and lamentation at humanity’s failures, at humanity’s complacency in the face of imminent doom and damnation.
“A Knife That Cuts” blasts out of the gate with crusty fury, a deceptive masterpiece of irresistible rhythms that alternate in such a way that, in less capable hands, the song would sound math-y and complex. As it is, the track is an instant favorite, perfectly cohesive with d-beats and blasts, thumping bass, smooth power chord progressions, and Gag-adjacent reverberating shouts. The song’s catchiness belies the militance of the lyrics, which focus on the choice to arm oneself to the teeth with principles and integrity, to fly a banner, to live “on pinions of iron and blood,” despite being surrounded by people who question your convictions.
“Thought Better” is a heart-racing stomper that takes a heat gun to the walls of the world, exposing the folly of getting hung up on and intoxicated by superficial people and things. Continuing with the rhythmic pyrotechnics that has come to define Drill Sergeant’s approach to hardcore, the verse, chorus, and bridge sections in this track all dip into different stylistic territory, melding beautifully and brilliantly into something that feels totally intuitive and organic, even as it buries you, even as you’re “enveloped by the stream,” “swallowed by the world.”
“Cries for Justice” is fulminating in both senses of the word. It is incendiary, a series of explosions and magmatic splashes in under a minute. It is also full of the vocal energy and messaging of an apocalyptic prophet, warning the glassy-eyed masses of the imminence of an infernal fate should they remain enmired in the “horrid temple” that is the earth. Astute ears will recognize the second voice of admonition as it breathes fire in response to Green’s sulfuric roar. Trevor Vaughan, credited under his alias The Meat Man, lends his singular vocal talents to this third release from a band whose first release, The Cosmic Leash, he mixed and mastered. The dual talents of these two masters of many genres make this track a glittering standout, not only on this already precious 7″, but also among all hardcore songs released this year.
EP closer, “D.S.G.N.W.,” is such a perfectly constructed song that it may well infect the listener with tarantism, causing them to dance themselves to death as they ball their fists and furrow their brow in consternation at the “state of the nation,” at this “vile age.” This song, one that burrows into the listener’s subconscious, is a declaration of war against the global status quo, a commitment to fight against an age of “endless tension, zero retention, and it projects a victorious, integrous few who will remain to two-step on the remaining slag of a fallen civilization that lost its way, that lost its grip.
Careful listening to song structure and attention to the thoughtful lyrical composition of these tracks reveals just how much skill and care goes into making an album that is simultaneously so vicious and so fun. Like with Academy Order and Stud Count, the minds behind Drill Sergeant make the impossible look effortless, as they produce release after release of front-to-back singles material.
Grim New War is fantastic, and Drill Sergeant may well just be getting started.
Drill Sergeant’s Matthew Green talked to Cvlt Nation about Grim New War.
Vile Ebb was a 2021 favorite in the hardcore world, even snagging a spot on the top 10 hardcore releases of that year for 2021. How have Drill Sergeant and changed since that release?
Matthew: Only that we’ve got live shows in the works, and that for this release we signed with Refuse Records out of Berlin rather than Convulse. Love both labels and would love to continue with them down the line.
The Cosmic Leash (2020) and Vile Ebb (2021) were largely written and recorded without the ability to vet and promote the songs through performing. How has touring and playing live affected Grim New War?
Matthew: Bret and I started Drill Sergeant at a time when the world seemed like it may never get back to normal, so our typical crew plus a friend of mine made plenty of sense. Our bassist at the time moved to California by the time we played our first and only show to date, Convulse Fest in Denver in 2021, so it’s always been just me, Bret and whichever friends of ours feel like playing.
Luckily, we’ve got a good amount of shows planned for 2023, so I guess we’ll find out then.
Can you describe the writing process for Grim New War? What were the major musical and lyrical goals, and how did the composition process compare to previous releases?
Matthew: We did it like we’ve done the rest of what Bret and I have done since we started playing music together; I wrote the songs and tried to mouth/pantomime the drum parts piece by piece until we had a rough demo I could finalize lyrics to.
For this release, I really just wanted to take a broader approach within the realms of hardcore punk we brush shoulders with. A lot of people have called us a powerviolence band, and though I love and draw influence from that pool and era, that’s not really what we are. I wanted to touch on my influence from bands like Riistetyt and Anti Cimex, 80s USHC, etc., and still give a fair sampling of what’s to come as we write and play out more, which I think is heard in these four songs.
Anyone who has seen Drill Sergeant live can attest to the very real feeling of anger in the music and the performance. That feeling is especially salient in these four new songs. Where does the anger come from?
Matthew: I dunno, man. My life has been super blessed, but I’ve also dealt with a lot of things no one should have to. People try to make it this weird pity party thing when people are angry at what’s been done to them, but the pain is real, and it’s pathetic and woefully immature that our subculture has made lamentation a point of ridicule. I’ve poured a hell of a lot of myself into music, and I’m sure to do it again. Hard to imagine any other way.
Trevor Vaughan has had a relationship with Drill Sergeant since the beginning. Can you talk about the connection and about his guest spot on this release?
Matthew: Trevor’s a very cool dude. One of my bands did some shows with one of his a handful of years ago and we just stayed in touch. I wrote one very true-to-sound powerviolence track for the 7” and felt his vocals would be a great addition. Thankfully, he thought the same. He was kind enough to put us up for a couple days when Stud Count played Boston in the autumn. Always good company. Still incredibly distressed by his “cozy dungeon synth” project, but that’s a story for another time.
With three current bands, you seem to be creating constantly. How do you know when a song idea (either riff or something lyrical) is best suited to Drill Sergeant vs. Academy Order vs. Stud Count? Do you set out to write something for a specific band, or do your purpose them after they’ve developed a bit?
Matthew: They’re just very different bands, and very different sources of emotion go into each of them. I don’t get excited about a lot, that’s just not how my brain works, but when I feel it I’ve written an entire song for one of my projects in my head by the time I get home from work. Though I’ve enjoyed being in bands that were full collaborative efforts–you know, a group of people I practice with weekly and come up with songs–that’s not been my M.O. for years now. So the idea of just having a riff that could go to any band just doesn’t happen.
This is Drill Sergeant’s second 4-song 7”, with the Vile Ebb full-length’s being released between the two. Do you approach writing for an EP and an LP differently?
Matthew: Definitely. I don’t think an LP, even in hardcore punk, should just be a group of enough songs to fill out the length; there has to be a cohesive feel to the record. These four songs came about because I felt like writing hardcore and got the go-ahead from the label to get them laid down and ready for a release. What I’ve written for our second LP has taken a lot more thought, and I’m very excited for whenever that comes out, though it will likely be a while. For now, I’m just happy to have new Drill Sergeant songs to play live, and very happy with how the 7” turned out.
What should people know about Drill Sergeant? About Grim New War?
Matthew: I think hardcore/punk is supposed to be a raw and vulnerable form of expression, and while I spent most of Vile Ebb vetting personal pain, there’s a tonal shift for the new record. I think there’s shared anguish in the modern world; things are not as they’re supposed to be, and that causes ache in the heart of man.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Matthew: Thank you, Evan, for taking time to talk. Forever grateful for our friendship and conversations, and I’m looking forward to more.
Don’t miss them if you have the opportunity to see them live.
Pick up Grim New War on vinyl at Refuse Records.
Artwork & layout are by Samuelito Cruz.