We live in complex, uncertain times. Although it’s true the world has its share of things to be happy about – extreme poverty at its lowest level ever, literacy at its highest level ever – humanity would do well not to lapse into hubris or ignorance about those left behind by the broad strokes of progress (see: 1913). To that end, bands like Cleveland’s Pillärs give a voice to the element of the human experience that is often left, well, Abandoned, which happens to be the title of its latest album. To understand where this voice comes from and why it exists, it’s good to take a look at some history.
America’s rust belt region – that much-fabled land stretching from upstate New York and western Pennsylvania all the way to Minnesota – has never totally recovered from the market disruptions that hit in mid-1970s. The story has been well-documented, but is worth summarizing. Germany and Japan recovered from their historic defeats and became economic giants. Western markets opened up to China, thus tapping into its vast labor force and helping it recover from the catastrophes of forced collectivization and state-enforced terror. Automation reduced the numbers of workers needed to produce more goods – which explains why real manufacturing output in the US is currently at one of the highest levels in its history, despite the relative decline in the amount of workers in that sector.
And perhaps most crucially, policy makers at all levels (local, state, federal) operated under the delusion that the growth and broadly shared prosperity of 1945-1975 was a permanent state of affairs. This was the message they gave to their constituents. While this of course led to some bad tax, regulatory and investment policies, it also tragically distorted private citizens’ plans, expectations and saving habits. After all, why do research on moving to another part of the country, learn new skills or reconsider that too-good-to-be-true home loan? The governor said he’ll put a stop to layoffs! The mayor’s going to bring the jobs back! The President is going to Make America Gr-…you get the idea. Yes, some of the big cities have recovered or just generally fared better than others. Minneapolis is an excellent example, as is Pittsburgh (no really!!!). But for much of the region, including Cleveland, the ensuing decades brought mostly pain, anger, frustration and disillusionment: the human cost.
You can try and quantify this cost in foreclosures, the number of blighted buildings, or the prevalence of prescription or IV-drug use among adolescents. But life and suffering is more than statistics. The message and sense of urgency requires something more. And as bands like His Hero is Gone, Skitsystem and, you know, Napalm Death have done in the past, Pillärs shouts this voice into your soul and doesn’t allow you to forget it.
To bring things back to the music itself, Abandoned is a thrilling, brutal and multi-faceted example of dark hardcore at its best. The riffs are great and lead vocalist Zach was basically born to sing in this style. Beth and Mike provide a crushing rhythm section, along with Beth’s backing vocals that add an extra shade of color to otherwise grim landscape. With all of this in mind, Pillärs has made the dark hardcore album to beat in 2018.
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