Written by Rae-Aila
Burner – It All Returns to Nothing
> Death metal/hardcore
> Released June 23
> Church Road Records
My relationship with Burner could best be described as similar to the process of U-Hauling — I discovered them a month ago, quickly tore through every single one of their releases, and decided that our future together would be a passionate and long-lasting one. The sound they’ve shaped throughout their relatively new career (their first release being Ingsoc in 2021) is an ecstatic and surprisingly mature one that has quickly cemented them as a group of young veterans.
The four-piece from London released their full-length debut It All Returns to Nothing on June 23rd via Church Road Records, the powerhouse UK label that houses other acts like Palm Reader and Slow Crush. The politically-charged, apocalyptic album smoothly blends blackened hardcore and death metal to showcase the band’s understanding of vast metal landscapes. Once you’re at the level of playing like the boys of Burner, you can do shit like mash together the hottest aspects of multiple bands to create something beautifully fresh. Though no amount of knowledge of metal history could replicate the pure confidence shown in this project. On It All Returns to Nothing, influence meets innovation.
The album starts on an astronomically high note with “Hurt Locker”, the first single to be released. The track waits for no man, as drummer Hugo Benezech and guitarist Nathan Harlow start off trading chops and riffs aggressively and obscenely, almost like a figure skating duo working together yet trying to see who can impress the crowd more. It’s not long before the tempo changes (a skill that comes second nature to the band) and vocalist Harry Nott takes center stage, and damn… does he have a voice. It sits perfectly on the edge of being an all-over-the-place instrument that can shoot between the deep depths of death metal and the near-falsettos of hardcore, though it is still focused enough to be the vessel of the album’s overarching theme. Nott, in the most badass fashion, opens his verse blaring “I am a product of what state controls / We emerge from the fog of war / Stalk, with weapons in our hands, but not our land / Patrol, we liberate by force”. It’s enough to make you clench the wheel a little harder on the drive back home from your grueling nine-to-five.
The discomfort shown in the opener carries on throughout the project. “Struggle Session”, a personal favorite, varies between Harlow’s staccato guitar slashes and Benezech’s Mad Max style of drumming (I truly don’t know the last time I’ve seen a drummer hold their own like this). “Prometheus Reborn” calls upon the god of fire to paint a picture of a deteriorating city. “Pyramid Head” includes the closest thing to a hook on the entire project, which provides a little comfort through the madness, though it’s still rowdy as hell. While all of the songs on this album are fantastic displays of technicality and range, the true standout track to me is the seven-minute “An Affirming Flame”. Starting at high speeds as most of the tracks do, “An Affirming Flame” reaches a rolling boil at the midpoint. Nott begins to enter a monologue similar to that of a prayer, repeating “And nothing changes if we don’t change ourselves”. The band erupts again, before walking down the calmest route on the project. It sounds like a plea or a cinematic call to action. Burner’s ability to manipulate dynamics at the appropriate times is what gives their songs an extra push to make them feel larger than life. Nott understands exactly when to use certain vocal inflections; Harlow knows when to turn the distortion down; Benezech drops the double kicks at the right spots; bassist Gannon ups the pressure yet still knows when to guide the rhythm (other bassists, take notes, please). You can tell these guys know how to have fun.
Burner also does right what so many metal acts do wrong — emphasizing the importance of track placement. If the first five tracks act as the shaming of the government and the politicization of the listener, the last five echo the violence and demise waiting for the powers that be. “Trinity”, the sixth song separating the two halves of the album, features an ominously repetitive guitar while the atmosphere slowly gets more and more aggressive, representing the transition from theory to action. Just through track placement alone, It All Returns to Nothing becomes an epic saga that details the struggle in revolution. THIS! is how you make a concept album.
With cultural relevance acting as the main factor of a band’s lasting impact, I can already see Burner patches on the denim jackets of 2028 Maryland Deathfest festivalgoers. The desire to leave everything up in flames as a reaction to state-sanctioned violence hits way too close to home for me, which says something, considering home for me is the United States, far from that of Burner’s. While listening to It All Returns to Nothing, I am reminded of both the hopelessness of life under capitalism and the catharsis of art as a form of liberation. We all have a long ways to go, and we could all be doing so much more — why not make the work we put in fucking rock?
THE BOTTOM LINE
Conceptually, It All Returns to Nothing is haunting, uncomfortable, and sometimes unforgiving; sonically, it is a milestone for metal music in 2023. The London upstarts fed us with a project that more than satisfies the wait. You can feel the blood, sweat, and tears put into this album. Don’t be surprised if this one lands a spot on your EOTY list.