Not fully awful, just offensively mediocre.
Regarding 'Broken', the new five-track EP from Adelaide heavy outfit 23/19, I've had a few people tell me that this new release is a step up for the South Australian four-piece. And they would all be correct in saying that, in fact. For 'Broken' is a step up from this group's so-so 2017 single 'Fatigue' and their forgettable 2016 demo. The only issue is that it's still not all that great in the grand scheme of things, as 'Broken' really is as meat and potatoes as it gets for hardcore and metalcore these days.
Of course, the band's recently released EP is absolutely nothing new for the genre(s) - and it was never ever going to be anything different, let’s face it - and while you definitely could listen to much worse, 23/19's music just isn't fully "there" yet. My reasoning for that stance is that with the exception of this EP's minute-long melodic and atmospheric interlude, 'Nightlife', this release’s other four songs are highly interchangeable with one another. To the point where the remaining four songs - ‘Heartbreak Kid’, ‘Crucio’ (which I reckon is a Harry Potter throwback), the titular track and closer ‘35th Floor’ - are similar sounding remixes of each other at best, and the same goddamn song at worst.
The dulled mid-tempo grooves that wearily bash against your skull on-repeat and the borderline obnoxious beatdown songwriting approach throughout this EP make it a chore to sit through. Which shouldn't be the case given that it's only 16-minutes long. The faster hardcore moments, two-step-esque sections, and occasionally melodic instrumental parts (like the bridge section of 'Heartbreak Kid') hint there's actual life brewing beneath the surface, yet you only ever receive faint glimmers of something engaging happening.
Along with the odd drop-tuned breakdown included so 23/19 can do those drop-puppet stage moves live, the band's bottom-dwelling metalcore norms and flat instrumentation only add to this EP's already lack of interesting passages. There are the boomy, noisy and rather overbearing distorted guitars that don't gel well with the other instrumentals or mix, with these under polished chugs taking up of so much frequency space within their respective songs. To be fair, I do actually like that raw, almost sludgy tone and quality to said guitars but they really do sound like they were recorded for another band or a seperate release entirely yet somehow got mixed up with this shit.
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Look, if I was watching 23/19 play at Enigma Bar or some other small local venue and they played 'Broken' material along, their aforementioned 2017 single and a song or two from that 2016 demo, I'd be bored to fucking tears. Sure, it is heavy, but so is a bag of bricks too.
[caption id="attachment_1101161" align="alignnone" width="760"] 23/19. So, apparently their name is a reference to the sock code combination from Monsters Inc, to which all I can say is: lol.[/caption]
Quite clearly from these five songs (four if we discount the phoned-in non-heavy track), these guys do know how to write a passable breakdown or two; they do know how to deliver some solid grooves, and they do know how to offer a decent enough chug-section. However, that seems to be the full extent of their songwriting abilities currently, as it never progresses beyond that one-dimensional realm. If there's anything deeper, anything better and anything remotely more interesting than "hey, here's some decent at best mosh parts you've probably heard from countless other bands" to be had from 23/19, than you sure as shit won't find it here.
Lyrically, like the bands 23/19 are trying to emulate, there's some pretty dark and brooding content housed within this EP's lyricism. Which, of course, lends to the heaviness of the music. But, and while this'll make me sound like a callous dickhead, it's never that compelling to listen to. Whether it's the emotional breaking points detailed in the title track, the self-loathing nature of '35th Floor', or being the victim of one toxic relationship in the Shawn Michaels referencing 'Heartbreak Kid' and 'Crucio', it's never that deep an experience. And that's fine, as some people will probably prefer that straight-up and none-pretentious approach to this bands lyric writing. But it does nothing to invest me any further into the actual music when I don't feel anything about the emotions and thoughts being offered. And I say that as a young man who hates himself more than anybody else ever could.
Based on their prior material and after having given this EP more spins that what was probably necessary, I just can't help but feel that having some kind of ambition or some sense of self wouldn't have hurt the band here. Because 'Broken' sounds like 23/19 are trying way too hard to be Alpha Wolf or Graves and not, y‘know, their own fucking band.
The real kicker about 'Broken' and 23/19's music is that there is constantly a trade-off happening.
The breakdowns are heavy and the mosh parts are decent, but they're also incredibly generic and far from the best you'll hear this year. The occasional melodic guitar parts that crop up break the sheer monotony, but they're always short-lived before it's right back to mind-numbing business as usual. I loved that the bass was actually distinguishable in the mix but wished that bassist Jai Page was given far more room to work with. Drummer Sam Maloney is the core moving force of the band's music but his drumming only ever amounts to being "metalcore and beatdown drumming 101". (Judging from their other releases, it seems like he didn't have much to work with when it came to hitting the tubes). Sure, frontman Nathan Stuckey's vocals are fine but they're never that low or that extreme either, only adding to the band's bland texture, sadly. And no doubt that 'Nightlife' is a very pretty interlude track, but it feels so out of place; like it was included as to force some sense of dynamic into this EP instead of 23/19 aiming to do that during the remaining four songs.
Besides all of that, 'Broken' isn't totally awful or a total write-off, it's just offensively mediocre. Maybe some would say that's worse, though?
1. Heartbreak Kid
5. 35th Floor
'Broken' is out now. Also, I'm sure there's a joke in here somewhere about this EP being scored as "23/19" but I cannot be arsed making it.