Album Review: Ithaca — “They Fear Us”

Oh so long ago, back when I was a fan of, as opposed to a contributor to, this site, we featured Ithaca’s debut The Language of Injury as an album of the month chat, and I distinctly remember listening to that episode and feeling compelled to immediately dive into it.  Needless to say, I was not disappointed, and Ithaca have been on my radar ever since.  Now, three years later in a world that seems completely and utterly different, the South London metalcore hotshots return with a new fire, new perspectives and a whole lot more to say on They Fear Us.  It’s the Rawring 20’s, y’all.

The road from where they began to where they are now has been a rocky one for Ithaca, for reasons that you can probably imagine and for ones that maybe you didn’t.  There is an excellent writeup of the band in the Guardian that I’ll do my damnedest not to steal *too* much from, but suffice to say that between trauma, loss, death threats, Nazi problems, racism and mental health struggles, The Language of Injury ended up being a dark and vicious album, chock full of animalistic aggression in the way you would imagine a metalcore band would be, but spurred on by the righteousness of those who society puts down.  However, what immediately separated Ithaca from the pack, besides their weaponization of the prejudice they have endured for daring to both exist in a musical space as who they are and demanding more of the rest of their contemporaries, is the band’s deft use of lush, open space and almost catchy pop sensibilities.  On They Fear Us, the quintet double down on the melodies and incorporate elements of blackgaze, 80’s power pop and even a touch of prog here and there to diversify their sound, all without losing the crunchy riff, ass-beating breakdowns and wild panic chords that keep them tethered to their roots.  It is an album that represents a pretty significant shift in sound for the band towards something on the more accessible side of the spectrum, but one that shouldn’t be unfamiliar (or unwelcome, for that matter) for anyone who has been paying attention to Ithaca.

In truth, the largest different between The Language of Injury and They Fear Us isn’t even in the influences or even the songwriting on display: it’s all about the attitude, and there has been a huge shift in attitude in the band in the past three years.  The Language of Injury is an album that strikes back, like an animal caught in a cage.  It is an album that is a reaction to all of the hurt the band has been through.  Don’t get me wrong: it’s great, and it was the album that the band needed to make at the time, but They Fear Us is completely different in tone.  This is a band that is punching up, taking the first shot, not waiting around to get hurt and then defending themselves.  There is a noticeable swagger to the way that Djamila Azzouz delivers her vocals (and in the content of the lyrics themselves) that was not present on their earlier material.  The guitars are so much more nuanced and feature a lot more groove, melody and technique.  There’s so much more confidence and bravado in these songs that the effect is entirely infectious.  The one-two-punch of “In the Way” and “The Future Says Thank You” that opens They Fear Us features the lockstep double bass drum/guitar riffs that exemplifies the band’s metalcore roots, but the addition of, and greater focus on, clean singing and the increase in guitar acrobatics in the riffs shows how much time and effort the band has spent honing their skills, to say nothing of the gorgeous, spacious ambience that has become much more prominent in their sound.  They Fear Us is an album that is as much spin kicks and picking up the spare change as it is quiet introspection and slow jamming, all without any sacrifices.

“…a lot of people who make the kind of music we make are just not on our level,” boasts Azzouz in the aforementioned Guardian piece, and you know what?  She’s right and she should say it.  Ithaca are one of only a handful of bands who are holding down the metalcore fort while staying true to the message and ambition that once drove the genre, all while being unapologetically themselves.  These are voices that we need, crucially, in metal to keep it alive, thriving, moving forward and a force for good in the world.  They Fear Us is an album that perfectly encapsulates this point, and hopefully I won’t jinx it by saying it’s only going to go up from here for Ithaca.

– Ian

They Fear Us will be available July 29 on Hassle Records.  For more information on Ithaca, visit their Facebook page.

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