“When you’re in a “hardcore” band – yeah, air quotes – or whatever that means, I think it’s a difference between blind rage and calculated rage.” This is Ithaca’s frontwoman Djamila Azzouz speaking on Holy Roar Records’ podcast on the London band’s swerve away from the conventions of hardcore. While I’m generally wary of adding a descriptor to a genre to make it ‘intelligent’ (case in point: I can recall a particularly phlegm-inducing description of Between The Buried And Me a ‘thinking man’s hardcore unit’), I think in the case of Ithaca’s wiry breakdowns and white-knuckled sentimentality, ‘calculated rage’ would definitely fit.
The phrase could actually accommodate many of Ithaca’s contemporaries, especially labelmates like Bristol’s Svalbard, Woking’s Employed To Serve and Sheffield’s Rolo Tomassi. Holy Roar Records – in many aspects the bastion of this more airy and textural tinge of heavy music – fly the flag at the moment for female representation in metal, putting it out there that women can wretch like they’re gargling razor blades, they can pen despondent and emotionally urgent lyrics and they can tell you to go fuck yourself if they’re mistaken for a girlfriend of a male bandmate.
Ithaca’s sonic and conceptual influences don’t stop at hardcore and metal either, their syncopated whip lashing riffs field a notable hip hop pedigree, and prog is clearly in their veins with the occasional meandering lead guitar accenting rhythmic chugging with the early sound of aforementioned Between The Buried And Me in mind. As revealed on the Holy Roar podcast, the band strive for their music to follow a thematic arc too, as guitarist Sam Chetan-Welsh notes, likening Ithaca’s drive to push for a conceptually circular album to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, saying ‘that’s what we as a band aspire to be able to create – to create stuff that has through-lines and narratives’.
The band’s debut record, The Language Of Injury, released in February to critical praise from the likes of Pitchfork, is an apoplectic ode to the futility inherent in our relationships and in ourselves. Azzouz’ lyrics are razor sharp on the degrading of a person’s backbone, while also possessing a self-awareness in communicating the corrupt and diseased state of our own moral agency. After all, the album is titled The Language Of Injury, suggesting an innate volatility in the semantics of the wiggly lines that blurt out of our mouths everyday – deeply penetrating people, bouncing off people, skittering across tensely-held skin – ultimately, affecting people.
The impeccable Holy Roar roster have things to say and noises to pummel and berate you with, they’re not going anywhere, and this applies especially to Ithaca, who’ve been dotting select festival dates for the summer like Bristol’s ArcTanGent, featuring bands held in high esteem in the rock and metal community like Meshuggah, Zeal & Ardor, Caspian, and Covet. Their music video for ‘Impulse Crush’ – which, it should be noted, during my first time listening, that my face almost caved-in with how strenuously I was contorting it to the incendiary grooves – is a visual microcosm of the band’s entire mantra: ‘Here we are, we’ve arrived, just as we are, and we can fuck around with whatever we want’, whether that be with breakdowns that resemble heart monitors going rogue or goddamn rainbow confetti.
It’s incredibly exciting to know that Ithaca free reign with how their sound expands in the future, the only thing to expect at this point is, in Chetan-Welsh’s own words, ‘If we ever do -beat, that’s when we break up’.
The Language Of Injury is out now via Holy Roar Records. Ithaca embark on a tour throughout March and April, the dates are as follows:
16-March – London – Boston Music Rooms
07-April – London – The Garage
18-April – Leicester – The Vault
19-April – Cheltenham – Frog And Fiddle
20-April – Southampton – Suburbia
By Joe Astill