The basement as torture chamber isn’t anything new, literally or figuratively. Yet there seems to be an increasingly prevalent trend wherein hardcore bands adopt the sweaty, perverse motifs of this theme and take it to sanity’s very limit. You can draw a line starting with Black Flag and Void, running through Cold Sweat, and landing at its most prominent latter-day terminus in Sex Vid. This degenerate style continues to pick up more steam as it unearths more gluttons for punishment. And now Total Abuse brings a brutal twist to the game. They’ve moved past the tried and true sound of their Sex Pig EP into the noisiest frontier yet, without any real direction. Or hope.
Conventional hardcore isn’t such a good fit for Total Abuse. Sure, coming of age as a weirdo punk in Austin, a town simultaneously coming of age itself, generates a lot of frustration. But how is that news? There isn’t anything in this band’s growing pains that hasn’t already been explored thoroughly in the earliest D.C. hardcore catalog. Songs like “Cleanse Me” and “Scarred” need to do more than just sound tough, angry, disturbed. They need to leave the impression that someone, probably everyone, is going to get hurt. “Banned in Austin” never slows down to get truly dirty, nor does it speed up enough to spiral out of control.
Where Total Abuse is most gloriously ugly is at the polar opposites of the spectrum, either in complete shambles or menacingly put-together. And when they manage to bend the extremes to meet somewhere underneath, that’s when you really need to watch your back. Opener “Introduction” is an absolute mess, sending cymbals and snare and filthy, fuzzed-out guitar into one of the most chaotic tailspins I’ve ever heard. The vocals finally kick in, a tortured soul mic’ed up in Hell, and you start to wonder how in god’s name they could sustain that much noise for almost four minutes. The speed and brute force energy of the following cut, “I Can See in the Dark,” feels like the real opener, meaning “Introduction” must be the death throe of something else.
These different sides of Total Abuse show a band at its strongest when it completely lets go. Yeah, they’re good enough to be just another down ‘n’ dirty hardcore band. It’s the fatalistic push to the brink of annihilation that makes them worth remembering.