When hitbox dropped their self-titled EP in 2022, it felt like a breath of fresh air to the heavy music scene; a powerviolence album with elements of death metal, cybergrind and mathcore that sounded crunchy enough to atomize skeletal structures, but clean enough to worm into your inner ear and bounce around your cranium. Guitarist and producer Joseph Fox of Tulsa, OK and vocalist/drum programmer Destin Taylor of Port Huron, MI, however, weren’t satisfied with sweeping us all up with just one EP last year – they followed it up with a slew of singles and a second EP, GLOBAL AND OFFENSIVE. Their tight song structure, their humor and biting cynicism, and their “clean-for-grindcore” production made their following grow rapidly over the course of the year, before their original X account got suspended.
It was in March of 2023 where momentum began to really shift in the band’s favor after the massively popular Twitter/X account “crazy ass moments in nu metal history” shared the band’s first single, “Grief Inheritance”. “Having Kirk and co. supporting us as much as they have since we started is a fucking BLESSING,” Joseph shared with me over direct message. “We attribute a lot of the cool shit we’ve been able to do to their support almost as equally to all the networking we’ve done ourselves.”
Labor Vita, Necesse Mori translates to “life is toil, death is necessary,” and much like death, the collection of sounds on this debut LP is unexpected, agonizing, transcendent, and harmonious. At the forefront of this record are clear influences from the heavier aspects of nu metal and the breakdown-heavy aesthetics of mathcore throughout. “Personally, I was going for a more powerviolence and death metal inspired hardcore/deathcore,” he explains. “But, as usual with most of our material, it’s really hard to abandon our roots, even if subconsciously.”
And you can hear it seep through. While there are still plenty of grimy textures and bleak soundscapes, there are levels of pop sensibilities that creep in like intrusive thoughts. They aren’t enough to push this album onto adult alternative radio by even the loosest and liberal views of “butt-rock,” but the hooky grooves and attention to structure just digs itself into your skin, heavy and catchy as hell all at once in ways that very few bands have managed to capture before (and will probably have a difficult time imitating any time soon).
In true cybergrind fashion, the album starts deceptively pretty, with the melancholic piano in the intro track “Labor Vita” lulling you into a false sense of security, where it will be okay if the album delves into deeper topics. That is, until all preconceived notions are shattered with the punishing second track, “Grief Inheritance.” The noisy intro, the guttural screams, and lyrics of a person broken down and beaten by life (in a way that is depressingly relatable) tears a little hole in your chest, then blows it open with a mortar.
Joseph noted the song as being the easiest track to write for the album, who sat down to write it in a day with Destin laying down vocals in three to four days. “Materialist,” featuring Hansel Romero of Nightlife, on the other hand, was “the most difficult.” “[The band was] originally supposed to have someone else take over the melodic section,” he explains. “Getting the drums and guitars juuuust right was tedious, but we fuckin’ did that shit and let our collective nuts hang at the same time.”
You can tell by listening that it’s a deeply complex song; the bounce of the riffs, the almost DJ-scratch like backing noises, the almost rap-scream vocals and the clean breakdown midway would not feel out of place on a Sevendust or even early Mudvayne album, if both those bands also listened to insane amounts of Napalm Death and Extreme Noise Terror.
“Unbound” takes a much different approach, with pounding breakdown riffs all the way throughout. The song evokes the sounds and styles of deathcore and slam in its insistence on being one long, terrifying and ugly breakdown; you can envision someone screaming at you as society crumbles down around your very being, and all you can do is stand and listen. This is a track that karate kicks and crowd killing were made for, and it is made all the more crushing when you take this album’s inspirations into consideration.
As Joseph explains, “All the bullshit we see on the internet and in our daily lives, all the transphobes, all the racists, all the genocide, all the wars going on and the ones we grew up watching, loved ones dying, it all kinda just weighed us down and I feel like this was how we needed to let it all out.”
If “Unbound” was for the hardcore kids, “Devoid of Pulse” was for the big lunks who want to make the biggest circle pit they can and run over everyone who dares not keep their pace. With insanely brutal blast beats, chugging guitars, and throat-shredding screams, even the slower parts of the song keep that persistent double bass kick. It drives us forward until the blast beats begin again, leading to a breakdown so disgustingly gnarly I felt like I had to take a long, cold shower to stop myself from getting overheated.
“Resignation,” the next track on the album, did very little to cool me off. This is where the nu metal takes over, and it shows how hitbox understands what nu metal is all about; the groove is absolutely infectious and the vocal delivery channels that angst into something so aggressively pissed off that Slipknot would have to stop and ask them if they’re okay.
“Under The Knife” feels more like late 90s hardcore/emoviolence with how straightforward it is, but don’t take that as a sign of weakness; rather than being a negative blight on an otherwise flawless presentation, it strengthens the foundation the album has built its structure on by taking its influences and fashioning them into something that feels original and stands apart from the rest. Not to wax poetic about a cybergrind album, but – no, actually, specifically TO wax poetic about a cybergrind album – it’s invigorating in the same way seeing a metalcore show in the early 2000s was. You got beat up, bones broke, maybe you even feared for your life during some parts of some sets, and it made you feel more alive than you ever have before. That’s how this track, and this entire album, made me feel.
“Bruised Skin” is yet another grindy mathcore banger, unrelentingly tearing your flesh from its bones from the very beginning, resulting in some of the crispiest blast beats I’ve ever heard, flash-frying your eardrums with absolute chest pounding lows and brain melting highs. Nothing is sacred in this track, satisfying everyone from the crust and grind enthusiasts to the slam dancing kids in basketball shorts and white tees. “Maintaining Remorse” keeps the chugging guitars and thumping drum programming going with an intensity that isn’t easily matched by many in the scene, and might be the last thing you hear before you fall into a nether realm of unspeakable horror.
For the guest filled “In Service Of…,” Ballista, Matikore and Nick Corcillo lay down some absolutely terrifying sections to an album already full of them, and all of it leads to the finale of the album, “Necesse Mori,” a dark and droning ambient piece with sinister keys and a haunting atmosphere that creeps up the back of your neck, as if the very concept of Death awaits you the moment you turn around, and even though you’re too scared to look, you’re too anxious not to…
The last time I left a debut album with this feeling, this incredible sensation of needing more, wanting more, but at the same time, awash with the satisfaction from what I had just heard…well, it’s been a long time. Heavy music, including cybergrind, has changed so drastically since I began listening. And yet, even though people continuously argue that nothing original or exciting comes out anymore, I find a new band every other week to point them to, begging them to open their ears and ignore their biased preconceptions. This is the latest of those bands, but this…this feels like an actual revolution.
When asked about potential live shows, Joseph was extremely optimistic. “Some things are starting to shape up…we’re getting closer and closer to closing the gap between Destin and I [for touring]…we’ve got some sick offers waiting for us, we just gotta get to ‘em!”
It’s a testament to this band that they’ve created something so sonically satisfying that they can quite possibly silence the most cynical of snooty critics, while also working on coming together to play their songs to crowds who will absolutely beat the shit out of each other when the first track hits.