Nine Circles ov…Integrity

Integrity was always more than just a hardcore band. Not that anyone from the late-80s/early 90s scene was “just a hardcore band” Sick of it All, Gorilla Biscuits, Strife, Bold, Judge and In My Eyes all had their own sound. But Integrity set themselves apart from the entire landscape with their sound AND their lyrics. Sure, for many years they were on Victory Records and part of the wave of bands that injected more metal into second-wave hardcore, which eventually birthed the sound we think of today.

But again, Integrity was different.

They had breakdowns, anthemic chorus lines and a generally tough and in-your-face attitude, much like a lot of the youth crew bands that dominated hardcore in the late-80s. However, that same era also gave us crossover, which took first wave hardcore and smashed it right into thrash in the style of Overkill and Anthrax. This meant “scooped” guitar distortion (meaning you cut all the mids out to give you that biting, crunchy sound) and lots of solos. Integrity embodied this approach as well, but the subject matter focused on apocalyptic and mystical themes. Integrity didn’t sing about “standing up for the scene” and “not turning your back on the crew” (nothing against that, of course). They wrote lines like this instead (from “In Contrast of Sin”):

Evil lurking around every corner
Appearing adhering
In the doubt of my mind’s eye
Doubt fills you up inside
Drown emotion…Insanity
Never for you or with you
Only alone by myself

In my search for divinity
Is there no answers
Is there no end
All alone in my doubt
Living in contrast of sin

All delivered via Dwid’s trademark frog-like vocals (not a diss). Although the band has seen tons of lineup changes over the years, their willingness to look at the darkness of humanity and existence at the literal and metaphysical levels has endeared them to fans of death metal and black metal, along with a core of devoted hardcore fans. The nine songs listed below should give you a good idea why. Note: Integrity’s discography is a nightmare to try and organize and track in your head, so I’m sticking with songs off the major releases (go to Metal Archives to see what I mean).

“Micha: Those Who Fear Tomorrow” (from Those Who Fear Tomorrow, 1991)

You could probably have an entire “Nine Circles Ov…” article just about this album. It’s packed with career and genre-defining highlights like “Judgement Day,” “Darkness” and “Tempest.” But overall, I’d say this crushing fan favorite represents the spirit of the album.

“Incarnate 365” (from Systems Overload, 1995)

You can’t mess with that intro: heavy, simple guitar arrangements with Charles Manson’s voice in your head. It’s the kind of lead-up that goes on for just long enough to get you anxious for the roaring blaze of solos that blow off at the 1:31 mark. I prefer the version from the A2/Orr Mix that came out recently, which better matches how the band originally wanted the record to sound.

“Hollow” (from Humanity is the Devil, 1996)

On the other hand, you have songs like “Hollow” that plug endless volts of sonic energy into your system right away. The opening bass line, the chorus and solo-drenched outro are all unmistakable. There’s a good reason the band usually opens with this song live (after riling the crowd up with “Vocal Test”). To get the tinny bass opening the song is known for, stick with the original version of Humanity is the Devil.

“Abraxas Annihilation” (from Humanity is the Devil, 1996)

In this case, I like the remastered version more. Everything comes together perfectly on this song, which is definitely one of the band’s heaviest ever. It also features lyrics inspired by themes from Egyptian Gnosticism: “The final seal has been broken apocalyptic visions / embrace eternity terror / to consume the species / all along you knew this time would come Abraxas / annihilation between the heavens.” This is one of those songs that makes you want to mosh right away, even if you’re alone and just need to rage (and probably make your pets very confused).

“Diseased Prey Within Casing” (from Seasons in the Size of Days, 1998)

The music on this album is less cutting and energizing, bearing a more brooding and foreboding character, in large part due to the contributions of guitarist Frank Novenic, who joined during the Systems Overload-era. The guitars have a fuller, mid-range feel, coupled with Dwid’s fully realized vocal approach. The band also started experimenting more with longer (and weirder) songs, pointing to a less and less orthodox take on hardcore.

“Heaven’s Final War” (from To Die For, 2003)

This was the first Integrity song I ever heard. It’s fitting that the band’s most solidly “metalcore” album came out the year that metalcore started to smash through metal’s stale and tired nu-metal/post-grunge status-quo. Integrity’s influence of the main protagonists (e.g. Killswitch Engage, Unearth, Darkest Hour) cannot be overstated. This also saw the band move from Victory Records to Jacob Bannon’s (of Converge fame) Deathwish Inc for a time.

“Dreams Bleed On” (from To Die For, 2003)

This song is an example of Dwid’s experimental tendencies combining perfectly the band’s classic approach. The song is dark and brooding, yet crushing and packed with catchy riffs. I still think To Die For is Integrity’s most consistent record, and I’d recommend it as the starting place for most thrash, metalcore and death metal fans who want to get into the band.

“Through the Shadows of Forever” (from The Blackest Curse, 2010)

And I’d probably recommend this one for the black metal types. This one is kind of an “updated throwback,” if that makes any sense. The mids are gone, the experimentation is reigned in, and the rawness is back. Lots of divebombs and spin-kicks to be had here.

“Blood Sermon” (from Howling, for the Nightmare Shall Consume, 2017)

Last year’s album, Howling, showed Integrity spreading their wings and flying in every direction. The album takes the band’s sound through black metal, hardcore and even some classic heavy metal. There’s something for everyone here! For me, that something is the blackened ripper, “Blood Sermon.”

Note: This article originally neglected to name Frank Novenic as one of the chief writers of “Seasons in the Size of Days” and “Humanity Is the Devil.” His name has been added in the appropriate place. The author regrets this error.

J. Andrew

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