‘It’s hard to believe a band can pack so much into a mere 17 minutes’ – MacDara Conroy on Nails‘ second album Abandon All Life
On first sight of Nails in a magazine spread a couple of years ago – capturing the quartet raging on stage, bassist John Gianelli showing his colours in a BL’AST! T-shirt – I knew this could be a band I’d get along with. So it was a bonus that the Californians’ debut album Unsilent Death was a dig in the gut of complacency in the scene, blasting through 10 tracks in less than 14 minutes – actually, more like one long song, like what the Minutemen did with their early records (there’s another SST reference for you) but with far more aggressive intent in their grinding attack. Unsilent Death expertly fused the formative grind of Napalm Death’s Scum (Side A to be exact) with the informed skill of modern practitioners like Rotten Sound, the filthy crunch of crust and the driving sonic barrage (minus the endearingly sloppy arrangements) of the powerviolence climate these Oxnard boys surely grew up in. Props to Southern Lord for picking up on what they were doing.
Come 2013 and Nails returned to the retail market a more road-seasoned prospect with the Obscene Humanity 7-inch, which filtered out the blastbeats for a bludgeoning hardcore experience that, while pleasingly close in sound and spirit to classic AmRep pigfuckery, wasn’t quite the same Nails. But for anyone who presumed that January release a taster for what was to come on their new album Abandon All Life (and I count myself in that cohort), the first blast of ‘In Exodus’ dispels any concerns of a change in direction too far. Alternately piercing, rumbling and hammering, it’s one hell of a calling card for a band with probably the most onomatopoeic name in heavy music.
And heavy this most certainly is. Kurt Ballou’s back at the console and he wrangles these tracks into shape with a bristling metallic edge, his production here bringing a new boldness or clarity to each instrument in the mix. Other than that, the work is all Nails: the frantic pace, the heaving clouds of guitar and bass, the bone-shaking drums and Todd Jones’ polyp-inducing vocals. Again the tracks run into each other as a single 10-movement suite: ‘Tyrant’ slams the pedal down where ‘In Exodus’ leaves off, speeding through the rattling fury of ‘Absolute Control’ which in turn stumbles onto the D-beat/grind switch-up of ‘God’s Cold Hands’ that heralds the first breakdown, as the band get head-noddingly low on ‘Wide Open Wounds’.
The second half repeats the devastatingly effective formula: the title track shifts restlessly between crust-caked hardcore, noisy grind and what might be a nod to Incantation’s ‘Golgotha’; ‘No Surrender’ is a blastbeat tornado that drops into the single-minded hardcore muscle of ‘Pariah’. Then there’s time for one last flurry of grind with the 24-second ‘Cry Wolf’ before the comparatively epic closer ‘Suum Cuique’, where Nails’ misanthropic metal and doom influences shine through over five minutes of steam-hammer percussion and pneumatic drill riffage. It’s hard to believe a band can pack so much into a mere 17 minutes, but Nails have done it here.