Nothing strikes fear into a fan’s heart more than an announcement that a band has decided to rip apart their sound and start again. Sure, we expect a band to grow, to develop and to experiment but all within the relative confines of their signature style. However, when a band decides to recast themselves altogether, results can be mixed to say the least. Not only are the band challenging themselves, but they also have to brace themselves for the inevitable backlash from their fans. Some people will never forgive AFI for changing from the punk roots of “Answer That And Stay Fashionable” or the way Yellowcard went in a more pop-punk direction on the “Still Standing” EP. Even more popular bands that just about fall under the punk remit like Fall Out Boy and Paramore are, now, totally unrecognizable to the bands they started out as, which has been ‘divisive’ to say the least. Therefore, it is not without some degree of trepidation to learn that Hundredth have embarked on a whole new direction on their fourth record “Rare”.
Understandably, the band felt they had taken their hardcore sound as far as they could after 2015’s “Free”. Rather than split up, the band sought to metamorphosis into something different altogether. “Rare” sees the band totally dismantle their hardcore sound, leaving only the faintest of residue behind. The result is a dark, shoegaze album replete with sheets of distorted guitars and echoing, often ghostly, vocals. It is an admirable attempt at transformation and one that is, on the whole, pulled off with aplomb.
This is not a toe dipped tentatively in the water either. Hundreth have climbed to the top diving board and hurled themselves wholeheartedly into their new sound. Nothing contrived or fake here. From the The Cure-esque bassline and the layers of distorted guitar on opening song “Vertigo”, it’s clear that the band have buried any remnants of the band they were. It’s still a hard-edged, heavy track but the way the band have adopted a dark, brooding tone creates a far darker, almost oppressive soundscape. The creeping, echoing vocals from frontman Chadwick Johnson add to the air of claustrophobia giving the whole thing it’s own definite, downbeat character. As on the majority of the album they float rather than howl, dripping with ominous menace. This is something that continues throughout the album. “Neurotic” adds bruising drums and a heavier break-down but it’s hardcore seen through the prism of 80s post punk and 90s shoegaze rather than approaching anything as crushing as heard on previous albums. “White Squall” again wears it’s 80s goth influences on it’s sleeve, starting out as a mid-tempo rocker before soon giving way to a resounding, panoramic chorus.
Thankfully, the band still know how to write urgent, insistent, heavy songs with “Hole” and “Disarray” providing a bit more bone and muscle. “Disarray” in particular hits hard with the band whipping up a discordant wall of noise as Johnson’s haunting voice echoes the line “control is a delusion/the walls are gonna cave”. At other points on the album, the band lock into a more shoegazzy groove with songs such as “Grey” and “Shy Vein” mirroring Catherine Wheel’s ability to sound aggressive over woozy, shimmery shoegaze guitars. The mid-tempo songs give the album real depth and substance. Initially, they might lack presence but on repeat listens their buzzing volatility becomes ever more exhilarating.
Hundredth’s new direction isn’t going to be for everyone. This, their fourth album, could be by a different band entirely, however, the laudable focus, commitment and sheer guts on show has seen them craft a mesmerizing, darkly beautiful album. There are obvious similarities to bands like Turnover and Nothing but if anything Hundredth’s take on shoegaze is darker, more unsettling, more nightmarish. A challenging album from a band not afraid to challenge themselves.