Revival of a revival?
Formed in 2016, Pupil Slicer’s discography has been rather sparse, offering one EP and two splits, perhaps escaping the radar of even the most hip of contemporary underground metalcore and scene revival fans alike. But the band’s 2021 release Mirrors is already one of the more celebrated and memorable albums in this style.
Long after the glory days of the 2000s weird hybrid-fusion of scene, grind, math and screamo (the genre tags are literally endless) championed by metalcore legends like The Dillinger Escape Plan, Converge and Norma Jean, the whole style and scene quickly evolved. It picked up classic but now outdated trends, like sharing music on Myspace or buying bright neon shirts and studded white belts that you could get at your local mall’s Hot Topic to wear to Warped Tour.
Regardless, bands like Heavy Heavy Low Low, The Number Twelve Looks Like You and Duck Duck Goose overall had a refreshing new aesthetic and sound, before they too faded into obscurity.
The very late 2010s and early 2020s have seen a dramatic revival, as classic bands like Genghis Tron and The Locust, and even some mentioned earlier, got back together. At the same time, a whole new underground scene came up from seemingly nowhere, made up of younger artists that contributed their own take to the movement, whether it be through the East Coast, (.gif from god, Shin Guard, Kaonashi), the Midwest (Frail Body, For Your Health, The Armed), the West Coast (SeeYouSpaceCowboy, letters to catalonia, Senza) or even the UK (Pupil Slicer, Frontier, Rolo Tomassi). Pupil Slicer are one of those that continue to carry the torch forward.
On Mirrors, one of the stand-out features, right off the first track “Martyrs,” is the jaw-dropping juggling of a completely vicious and savagely violent aural assault, as well as technically impressive instrumental performances that Pupil Slicer is seemingly able to balance with ease. Following is the brief, 48-second “Stabbing Spiders” and “L’appel Du Vide” (translation: ‘the call of the void’), which features vocalist Carson Pace from their mathcore contemporaries, the Callous Daoboys.
The chaotic, panicked sound continues on “Panic Defense,” one of the more sensitive subject-oriented tracks. Referring to the gay and transgender panic legal defense still in practice in the U.S. to this day, the track demonstrates guitarist-vocalist Kate Davies’ passionate and heart-felt lyrics and raw, frenzied, harsh vocals. Impressive to mention is that Mirrors is Davies’ debut as a lyricist, and she wasn’t even intended to be Pupil Slicer’s vocalist to begin with.
Songs such as “Husk” and the second single, “Wounds Upon My Skin,” flirt with more chilled-out (if you could call it that) and sludgier dynamics that make their hardcore and metal influences, like the thrashy D-beat from fantastic drummer Josh Andrews on “Vilified,” pop out much more. Oftentimes, these dynamic variances are sandwiched and interwoven between the more dizzyingly dissonant and shorter numbers like “Worthless,” “Save the Dream, Kill Your Friends” and the third single, “Interlocutor,” which helps Pupil Slicer not overstay their welcome through the 38-minute runtime.
Furthermore, the band goes all in on that same passion on the longest track, “Mirrors Are More Fun Than Television” (possible nod to the pre-Fall of Troy band, The Thirty Years War, who have a song of the same name?). Clocking in at a second away from being seven minutes, the tune incorporates the same frenzied riff-salad song structure as before, but with more grooves, awesome grit bass playing from Luke Fabian and impassioned blackgaze-esque energy through crescendos and vocals, calling to attention listeners and fans of Alcest, Ulver and Oathbreaker.
The finale, “Collective Unconscious,” features more of the aforementioned style, highlighted by fast tremolo-picked riffs and blast beats that complement one another, building up to an emotionally drenched climax and subsequent ambient soundscape with Davies’ raw, vocal cord-shredding vocals bookending the record.
Quite honestly, Mirrors is in the running to be held up in the same regards as something as influential as Converge’s Jane Doe (2001), or at the very least it’s the jumping off point for a promising career. An amalgamation and continuation of about two decades’ worth of metalcore, Mirrors offers a more contemporary and refreshing take, whether it be through crisp production and instrumental chops, interesting song directions, or even the bits of static and glitch that speckle the album. Already, Pupil Slicer is giving metalcore-darling contemporaries like Vein and END a very serious run for their money, and it’s very exciting to see where they can go from here.
Definitely check out Mirrors, released through Prosthetic Records, and listen to Kate Davies talk about it on Bandcamp’s ‘The Metal Show.”