Hardcore and its various offshoots suffer from a strange paradox: These genres have a history of creating special havens for women, People of Color, LGBTQIA+ fans wherein they can feel seen, safe, and uplifted. Simultaneously, however, these genres have generally upheld an especially aggressive type of toxic masculinity that, while empowering to those who have felt spiritually or emotionally neutered in their day-to-day life, also creates exactly the type of “tougher than thou” machismo from which so many fans seek to escape.
This is a complex issue that will someday fill a volume or two of textbooks when punk is embraced by academia as an area of legitimate study, but in the meantime, Indiana’s Life Is Beautiful has ventured to “man up” and explore the issue themselves on their courageous and fantastic debut LP, Men’s Health, out now on the ever-reliable Convulse Records. While one might expect a band who has paid its dues to the scene to establish its hardcore credibility before taking these kinds of philosophical and aesthetic risks, Life Is Beautiful kicks in the saloon doors of hardcore with their first full-length, baring those things that others choose to hide — which are all of our vulnerabilities — and speaking truth to the power which allows systemic issues to persist in an environment that claims to eschew them.
A second paradox of the album is that it is both impressively vulnerable and immensely powerful, a dragon showing its soft underbelly and daring you to attempt anything.
Men’s Health begins with the aptly named “A Smooth Intro,” a sauntering, braggadocious number whose mid-tempo pacing, nearly one-chord composition, and existentially frustrated vocals recall Pissed Jeans‘ “Boring Girls.” The steady swagger of that track ultimately disarms the listener in order to bombard them with the grind explosion of “Ringer,” a track with the most understated and effective breakdown, perhaps, of the year.
“Nothing Left” is an exemplary track, displaying the band’s talent for juxtaposing cheeky satire with viscerally, teeth-grindingly raw emotion. The song begins with the bottom-of-the-well rattling bass of Dustin B, overlaid with a sample from 1972’s immortal John Waters film Pink Flamingos. The late, great Divine narrates a televised murder to lead into the song’s primary blast beat section as Helvie’s diaphragmatic explosion explodes his chest, exposing heartbroken beyond repair. The use of humor as a veneer to hide and protect real emotional exposure is a perfect allegory for one of the greatest pitfalls of modern masculinity, and it is a brilliant approach that also upholds the tradition of gonzo, self-effacing powerviolence like that originated by Spazz.
After “Hunk” and “Self-Aggrandizing,” two tracks that revive the monstrous fury of underrated powerviolence greats like Eddie Brock, Magnum Force, and California Love, and that projection of male insecurity onto others and general misanthropy, respectively, the album takes a detour. A centerpiece in terms of chronology and in terms of ambition, “Sorrow Collective/Torment of Consciousness” is a stylistic digression that both further establishes the band’s fearlessness in a world of hardcore gatekeepers and also demonstrates their ability to integrate and transition between disparate styles with ease. The first half is an instrumental meditation that recalls the post-hardcore reflection and experimentalism of Fugazi, Nation of Ulysses, and Moss Icon, with ponderous arpeggiation and foot-dragging rhythms. Once the audience has lowered their heart rate, the song breaks into a blazing gallop, as the lyrics “Living in sin, writhing in pain, day after day, it’s always the same” tunnel into their brain as if shouted through the business end of a stethoscope.
Following “Dysfunction,” a bite-sized fastcore head-bludgeoning focusing on inadequacies of the size and performance of one’s genitals, “Don’t Touch Me” begins with a sample from a gay-panic afterschool propaganda special called “Boy’s Beware.” As with many of these tracks, the snark of the sampling choice belies the truly upsetting gravity of the song’s subject matter, as these lyrics deal with child sexual abuse and the predation and gaslighting that surrounds it. With darkwave and goth melodies over a pulse-paced bass and drum rhythm, this song manages to be, perhaps, the most menacing of them all, as the subject matter and musical composition combine to effect a great nauseating uneasiness that meets its purgative catharsis with Helvie’s “Don’t fucking touch me!”
Title track, “Men’s Health,” serves as a late thesis statement for the album, focusing on the ways in which the emotional isolation of masculinity perpetuates all of the emotional ills from which men tried to preserve themselves. “No one is listening. Figure this out on your own. Be a man. Build up that stone fucking wall. Be a man. No one cares for your muttering. Wake up every morning. Keep fucking suffering.” As the majority rulers of most global powers, men may be wholly responsible for the world’s greatest problems, if only because they refuse to healthfully address their own. Chris’s guitar solo in this track is brilliant, tripping over the beat and accelerating the song’s overall momentum with subtlety and ingenuity.
Closing track, “The Mark,” returns to the chest-puffing muscularity of the opening track, both bookending the album with a moderately paced, big-booted power that communicates a band that is well aware of its own musical virility, a band secure in its own creative prowess, just as sonically as they are aesthetically in their choice of genre-norm-defying promotional art.
L.I.B. would stand out as an intensely talented group of songwriters and musicians even if their subject matter were not so timely and crucial. As it is, their music combined with their messaging positions this band as one of the few bold enough to speak truth to the social power of toxic masculinity at the individual level, at the societal level, and most importantly, at the “scene” level, and if enough hardcore musicians and fans lower their guards enough to receive this gift, the whole genre will take some very necessary steps forward.
L.I.B. was kind enough to talk to Cvlt Nation about Men’s Health.
First, can you introduce the members of the band and any other projects they’re involved with?
Helvie – Vocals, Lyrics, and Scary.
Dustin B – Bass, Art Direction.
Tyler – Drums, I also drum for Crescent and the Tall Boys.
No, not at all. We were just anxious to get it out in the world, with the plants being backed up we were on pins and needles.
Can you describe the process of writing the music for Men’s Health?
Dustin: Typically, Chris comes to practice with riffs to start a foundation, and from there the process is very democratic.
Chris: The process was varied for this one. I didn’t really start writing with a record in mind till later into the process, more with the types of parts we’d like to play & new ground we wanted to cover stylistically. Some songs started with a single riff, joke, or idea that we worked into songs at practice, others were more realized when brought to the table then stripped backed, lengthened, or rearranged as everyone added their parts to flesh them out. For one song, Tyler wrote all the drums first, sent a recording then I wrote riffs to that, all remotely, that song was “Self Aggrandizing”.
What were some of the major musical influences for this release? Lyrical influences?
Chris: Coke Bust, Rival Mob, Insect Warfare. I wanted to pull everything I liked from the noisier fast music and more traditional hardcore but also incorporate the creepy tension-building parts more influenced by Post-Punk and Black Metal.
Dustin: Artistically, a lot of our contemporaries use really similar design styles, and while those are a big influence on us, we wanted this release especially to feel separate from that world.
Helvie: Lyrically, I wanted to do something that people could relate to that is all very personal to my experiences. A lot of the themes on this record are very tongue-in-cheek, but still, come from a very real place in my life.
Tyler: Janet Jackson
The subject matter for this LP is important, ranging from abuse to mental health to impostor syndrome, with a prevailing focus on the causes and symptoms of toxic masculinity. What inspired you to focus on this?
Tyler: You forgot the one about how Helvie can’t get hard.
Helvie: Dustin brought the actual title Men’s Health and we kept that in the back of our minds, and as the songs came together and lyrics were appearing we started fleshing that idea out further until it felt like a really solid concept as a whole. We definitely wanted to toy with the “man up” stigma, and not take ourselves too seriously while talking about the things that really weigh me down.
With these topics being so pervasive, why do you think they are largely absent in hardcore music?
Alex: A lot of people just want to be the toughest one in the room.
Dustin: I actually don’t think they’re absent, I just think that we took an approach that is a little more self-aware and having more fun with the serious tones.
Chris: I met Adam through his previous band Euth while I was setting up a tour for Kiddo, a band I used to play bass in. He then released a split for my band Angel-Maker with mutual friends Low Faith (Denver). Adam later came through Indy on the last Euth tour. I gave them a place to crash that night and we stayed up late geeking out on Hardcore and bands we liked. He was telling me about his ambitions for the label and offered to put out the next L.I.B. in that conversation. I’m so impressed with what he’s done with Convulse and all of the things that they’ve accomplished since then. It took a while for the record to come to fruition but the whole process has been a joy, he was really down for whatever we wanted. He’s done more for us than we ever could’ve hoped for.
What is the scene in Indianapolis like? What are some local bands that deserve a wider audience?
Chris: Indianapolis is doing a lot better than it has in a long time and there’s a lot of great music coming up.
Dustin: Not great, but the bands are great and we’ve all been working really hard to make it better, and everyone’s been very receptive and helping achieve that. Indy is really cool in the sense that we have a lot of mixed-bill shows with hardcore and hip-hop, and in that sense, we’re blessed.
Helvie: It’s getting a lot better, the current bands are all really supportive and all striving to make the scene bigger. Turnouts have been great. I love rock n roll. Put another dime in the jukebox baby.
Tyler: I love music.
All: We want everyone to play here. We’ll book it. Pull up.
What do you love about hardcore? What should change?
All: Nothing. Nothing.
What should people know about L.I.B.? About Men’s Health?
Nothing. Bring your band through Indy.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
All: No, we’re really humbled by the response and appreciate anyone who listened, booked shows, and gave us a spot to stay. It’s all been seriously wild. Come see us on tour, we’ll be around.
Tyler: Shout out to Cvlt Nation for the interview. Love your site.
Men’s Health was recorded mixed and mastered by Matt Riefler.
Publicity photos and album cover photo by Brooke Taylor.