Album Review: Contention – ‘Artillery from Heaven’

Posted: by The Editor

Contention’s last EP, 2022’s Summer Offensive, began with a clip from the Watchmen film. Rorschach, played by Jackie Earle Haley, speaks of a war in which “millions will perish” because “there is good and there is evil, and evil must be punished.” Laying Waste to the Kingdom of Oblivion, the EP Contention released the year prior, began with a reading from Blood Meridian, a quote from the demonic Judge Holden on the nature of war. The title of the Tampa metallic hardcore band’s first full-length makes it clear they’ve still got bloodshed on the mind; this time, though, the five-piece doesn’t open their record with a quote about war. They kick things off with a single ominous guitar lead warning shot bleeding into a breakdown that sounds like the razing of a city. So begins the merciless Artillery from Heaven, one of the best and most exciting hardcore debuts in recent memory.

Contention has no interest in making anything other than brutal, confrontational metallic hardcore, and they’ve learned from the greats. Its members are involved in countless other Florida hardcore bands (and some non-hardcore ones) and the broader hardcore scene; in other words, these guys love hardcore, and that love comes through all across Artillery from Heaven. Lead single “In the Land of Nod” is a nice taste of everything Contention does well across the album’s twenty-one minutes, unfolding at a breakneck speed and every verse gets grimier and heavier culminating in a gnarly, sludgy mosh part; while, for that reason, it’s a sensible pull track, it’s part of the most thrilling run of the record, sandwiched between the crushing “Chasm” and bleak closer “Nuclear Peace.” “Chasm” features some of the band’s most impressive guitar work in its melodic, soaring climax, and “Nuclear Peace” takes the record to its darkest, most foreboding moment as the whole thing collapses into a bone-rattling breakdown.

They throw back to H8000 on “Ousted from Eden” and “Lobotomite Bliss,” two of their most relentless cuts to date; at the climax of the former, they enlist Tommy Harte of Broken Vow to trade off vocals with Cosmo Vidussi, two titans of the current crop of metallic hardcore coming together in one of the most exciting moments on the album. The latter is possibly the fastest song on an album that rarely lets up; it leads into the instrumental “Faustian Machinations,” the sole moment Contention gives you to catch your breath. Even still, it’s a tense and unsettling track, like the music that plays in a horror movie to let you know someone’s about to die.

Nearly all of Artillery from Heaven has that sort of uneasy, foreboding feeling, a pervasive heaviness that nearly feels suffocating. It never is, though; even at their darkest moments, Contention knows hardcore is a genre built around communal release. The end of “Ousted from Eden,” in which Vidussi’s and Harte’s voices fight for attention, will clearly be a mic-grab moment at shows, and “ICBM” has a verse that could generously even be described as a chorus. But make no mistake–this is a heavy, heavy album–and the vision Vidussi puts forth is just as heavy; he writes of “jagged black wings” and “paradise ground into dust,” of a world blanketed in ash lit only by “the glow of plutonium.” The world of Artillery from Heaven is one of “extinguished faith” where we’ve been abandoned by God and left to destroy ourselves–and, if the George W. Bush soundbite that ends “Revenge Directive” is any indication, to destroy ourselves for nothing. Contention doesn’t intend to go down that easily. They reject that vision of the world, of a “kingdom wrought in blood.” As “Nuclear Peace” barrels toward the sun before its inevitable comedown, Vidussi shrieks out the record’s most jeeringly optimistic lyric: “dawn will find me pissing on the ashes of your empire.” Contention is ready for war, and their battle cry is a double-time breakdown.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Artillery from Heaven is out May 3rd.

Zac Djamoos | @gr8whitebison

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