You’ve seen the smirk. We’ve all seen the smirk. This past weekend, the smirk was everywhere. It’s an image that’ll be stuck in our heads for a long time: a Vietnam veteran and Omaha Nation elder singing and thumping a drum while a little shit in a MAGA hat stares at him, inches from his face, smiling mirthlessly, an overwhelming nothingness in his eyes. All around the two of them, more little MAGA-hat shits, students at a Catholic school in Cincinnati’s Kentucky suburbs, hoot and howl and do that Atlanta Braves tomahawk-chop thing.
In the few days since then, the whole story has followed an arc that we could see coming from miles away. The little shit’s family has hired a publicist, and he’s put out a statement that he did nothing wrong and that the old man was really taunting him. The right-wing mediasphere has circled wagons around the little shit, insisting that the longer video of the moment, with Black Israelites making fun of the kids and the old man stepping in between the two factions, somehow proves that the little shit was really a victim. The President Of The United States has tweeted in support of the little shit. None of it changes that smirk, or what it meant. You can still feel that smirk in the pit of your soul.
All weekend, I couldn’t stop looking at the smirk, enacting my own personal version of the Two Minutes Hate from 1984. The little shit is just the latest in a long line of shits, big and little, who have been marching through our timelines in recent years, seemingly existing only to summon bile from the pits of our stomachs. He’s merely the latest representative of a system that’s only grown more outwardly gleeful about the endless societal death-march — the resources yanked away from those who need them and bestowed upon those who might barely notice them, the privileges flaunted, the planet stretched toward apocalypse so that a few shits can stay rich. Judiciary know all about these shits. These shits are their muses.
Judiciary come from Lubbock, Texas, and they make a deep-crunch form of metallic hardcore that’s always been bone-level satisfying, but which is especially bone-level satisfying when it feels like we’re failing at every moment that we’re not getting torches and pitchforks out. Judiciary have been around for about five years. They’ve toured hard. They’ve released a demo, an EP, a split with the likeminded Canadian band Mortality Rate. And now, with their full-length debut Surface Noise, they’ve made a bracing and all-consuming face-stomper of an album, an album that feels like one of the only logical responses to the state of things.
Judiciary’s sound is not new. For decades now — ever since the late-’80s crossover era, or since the Cro-Mags before that — metal and hardcore have been combining their forces, doing everything possible to convey the brutal disgust that you sometimes need to get across. That combination has been fertile ground, and in recent years, bands like Iron Reagan and Judiciary’s fellow Texans in Power Trip have been drawing on it. But Judiciary aren’t especially interested in evoking ’80s skate videos. Instead, they’re drawing on the tradition of metallic hardcore bands like Integrity and Incendiary — makers of warlike mosh music that sinks deep into grooves, bands who craft riffs that hit like anvils.
Within that tradition, Surface Noise doesn’t break a whole lot of ground, but it immediately registers as a total monster of an album anyway. It’s a towering piece of work, strident and purposeful. On a purely sonic level, it’s the type of album that will absolutely rattle your chest cavity. We don’t often get to hear Bandcamp-level hardcore bands recording music with this level of physical majesty. Surface Noise has widescreen production values, but even if it didn’t, the rhythmic deep-judder riffs would register on an elemental level, and vocalist Jake Collinson’s grunt-roars would hit with feral force. There is an astonishing level of craft to this record, even if it’s the type of craft that leaves you wanting to elbow-smash the nearest corporate lawyer.
Because trust: Judiciary feel the same way you do. Surface Noise is an album of rejection, an album that explicitly calls for violent political retribution. Half the time, Collinson is singing about the shits currently making all the decisions in our society. That looks like this: “Scratch and fight to be secure / Doomed from the start, evil has slithered to the top.” Or this: “Fragile bodies with feeble egos / Self-convincing of a world overthrown / False prophets, propaganda / Projecting truth as fucking slander.”
The other half of the time, Collinson is singing about what he’d like to do to these people. And that looks like this: “I’ll rip your heart from your goddamn chest / You’ll feel true revenge / I’ll go to war to bring you down / Your words will drown.” Or this: “You’ll give us your fucking life / Redemption by karma’s knife.” These might be metaphors, but they don’t sound like metaphors. Collinson sounds like he wants to kill a motherfucker.
Collinson has reinforcements. And those reinforcements don’t just come in the form of his Judiciary bandmates’ locked-in monster-stomp. Surface Noise is the product of a community. A bunch of the songs feature guest vocalists, people like Jess Nyx, of Alberta’s Mortality Rate, or Bryan Garris, of Kentucky’s Knocked Loose. Like Collinson, all of the guests scream, but they scream at different pitches, so it sounds cool. And on the lead single “Temple,” the guest screamer is a person of some note.
Brody King sings for the LA band God’s Hate. But God’s Hate don’t tour or record too often, since most weekends, King is busy with his other job. He’s one of the best indie-level pro wrestlers currently operating in the United States. King is a brick shithouse: 6’5″ and close to 300 pounds, with a massive beard and tattoos everywhere. He throws brutal strikes, but he’s also capable of lucha libre acrobatics that look insane when a dude his size is doing them. If he wants to, King will probably go to WWE sometime in the next couple of years. But based on what I hear on “Temple,” I have a hard time picturing King working for the company that once booked Donald Trump for a Wrestlemania main event. I thought “Temple” was an absolutely badass song even before I realized that I was hearing King on it. And now I like it even more, if only because it helps when you know that one of the guys bellowing about “My mind is a temple for vengeance / My body, a vessel for hate / My desire, to end all of the pain and suffering that you create” looks like this.
But you don’t need to picture anyone involved in the creation of Surface Noise to know that this is cathartic stomp-ass music, music that might make you feel a little bit better if you’ve been torturing yourself by, for instance, looking at that smirk. Near the end of the album, Jake Collinson roars, “I am pure goddamn fury / I will devour you whole.” Every time I hear it, it hits the fucking spot. Because Jake Collinson and his bandmates really do sound like pure goddamn fury, and because a lot of motherfuckers need to be devoured whole right about now.
Surface Noise is out 1/25 on Closed Casket Activities.
Other albums of note out this week:
• DAWN’s searching, nostalgic future-pop party new breed.
• Sneaks’ adventurous, rap-influenced post-punker Highway Hypnosis.
• William Tyler’s virtuosic, bucolic guitar showcase Goes West.
• FIDLAR’s hook-happy punk rock return Almost Free.
• Sada Baby’s hard-slapping mixtape Bartier Bounty.
• Rat Boy’s endearingly sneery, Tim Armstrong-produced punk/rap hybrid Internationally Unknown.
• Mike Krol’s tuneful garage-rocker Power Chords.
• Mono’s grand, crashing post-rock zone-out Nowhere Now Here.
• Swervedriver’s heavy shoegazer Future Ruins.
• The Dandy Warhols’ reliably hedonistic rocker Why You So Crazy.
• Eerie Wanda’s shimmery, melancholic indie rocker Pet Town.
• Killers member Dave Keuning’s solo album Prismism.