Written by Ellis Heasley
Sxokondo – Altered Ego
> Metallic Hardcore
> La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland
> Releases October 28
> Division Records
The Swiss hardcore scene should probably get more credit than it does. Particularly with bands like Knut, Nostromo (who were a big influence on Gojira), and Coilguns, the country has produced some absolute core and core-adjacent worldies in its time, mostly with a chaotic metallic sound and often covered in a generous dose of sludge. Sxokondo (pronounced ‘shock-hondo’) fit the mould well too, especially on the chaotic side, and their debut full-length Altered Ego makes for a strong addition to a somewhat underrated scene.
To get a bit less geographical for a second, Sxokondo’s sound probably has most in common with bands like Botch and Converge – as indeed they acknowledge in the press notes for this release. Of course, they’re hardly the first to tip their hats to such legends. As bands like Anna Sage and Creature have proven really well in 2022 alone, there is still a way to take a healthy reverence for the golden era of metallic hardcore and make it feel urgent and relevant today. Altered Ego doesn’t struggle in this regard either, and provided you’re willing to lay We Are the Romans and Jane Doe to one side for a minute then you should have a pretty good time here.
As you might expect then, Sxokondo manage to get a fair bit done in each of their tracks—something they prove quickly enough with opener “Faded Brides” which squeezes throbbing menace, sludgy grooves, full-throttle D-beaty hardcore and a panic-stricken closing breakdown into a tight and breathless four minutes. It’s sort of like an establishing shot for the record to follow, as the next 42 minutes do largely whistle by as this kind of music often can. It certainly takes a few listens to get to grips with the album’s many breakneck twists and turns, but there are a few moments which grab a little more instantaneously from the off, like the hypnotic polyrhythms of “Old Gods New Gods”, or the Every Time I Die-esque riff fest that kicks in around three and a half minutes into “Le Dernier Civil”.
Soon enough though you’ll probably find yourself hoping for the band to do something a little different—maybe a touch of dynamic respite for example—and fifth track “Child of Rage” just about delivers. It’s got a quieter guitar intro that soon thunders into some post-metally heft, and the track in general feels a little steadier and more settled which works to the record’s advantage given that it arrives just before the album’s halfway mark. There’s even some sci-fi-tinged synth work in the song’s trance-inducing middle section which juxtaposes against its torturous sludgy close in manner that’s less a case of light and shade and more like shade followed by the complete obliteration of the sun.
But violent metallic hardcore is the order of the day here and it really is very good. The title track is a chaotic but groove-heavy crusher for example, while “Post-Truth Reality” has a stabby dissonant intro that evokes Protest the Hero‘s “Bloodmeat”, which is probably a stupid thing to say considering it’s not the same rhythm and plenty of other bands have done a similar thing but it’s out there now. The only real criticism of the record is that it drags on a little too long. Ninth track “Void” goes again for something a little more dynamic and post-metally, but to be honest it feels less necessary than if the band had just made the album five and a half minutes shorter. Well over half of its runtime is completely instrumental, and closer “Ruins” does the dynamic thing much better anyway as cleaner guitars, distant waves, paddy synths and quietly buried vocal chants end the record on a tried and tested note of reflection which even then still goes on a little longer than it needs to.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Nitpicks aside, and with a necessary acknowledgement that the vocals can sit quite low in the mix at points—no doubt intentionally so—most people should give this one a go. If you like Converge and Botch and all the rest then here’s another record that will scratch a similar itch if you ever tire of the obvious classics. If not, then Altered Ego could have as good a chance as any other at being the album that wins you over because what we’ve got here is another killer take on a formula that makes it hard to understand why anyone wouldn’t just love this stuff.