I love me some powerviolence, but it isn’t exactly a genre known for surprises. To misappropriate a line from 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes, powerviolence tends to be nasty, brutish, and short. And give or take the occasional Weekend Nachos song about a snowball fight (which was actually surprisingly violent given its fairly innocuous subject matter) it also tends to be more overtly political, most likely as a nod to the 80’s hardcore scene from which it (at least partly) sprung. So given those parameters, I thought I knew exactly what to expect from DC-based quartet Pain Tank and their debut album 97, 901, 726 Confirmed Kills, but this album ended up really surprising me in a couple of ways. In fact, I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard another powerviolence record like it, and I expect it will end up being the high-water mark for the genre in 2017.
The album’s title—which is an estimated tally of the combined number of military and civilian casualties, both foreign and domestic, of every war the US has been involved in—is a pretty accurate representation of the lyrical content, but it’s the way that they approach the subject matter is that makes this record something special. Pain Tank chose to record the album live in the studio, and it was a fucking brilliant move: there’s no shortage of aggression on the record, but there’s also a looseness to the performances that isn’t often seen with this style of music, and a natural warmth to the album’s overall sound – I love the relatively clean (a bit of distortion and maybe some reverb) guitar and bass tones, and there are no triggers on the drums. As a result, everything about the record feels exponentially more intense.
What pushes everything over the top, though, is the vocal performance. Steven Kirchner screams, howls, bellows, growls, and even fucking bleats like a sheep in one of the most tortured vocal performance I’ve ever heard on record. It makes tracks like “Starvation Cockhard” almost difficult to listen to, but that’s also part of the band’s modus operandi. According to the press release that accompanied the promo, the band sees their music as “a mirror to the suffering of this world, not an act created for shock value. What they present is the opportunity for pain. Critical thinking is pain. Growth is pain. Pain Tank is a means to confront the darkest, most atrocious acts of mankind.” There’s clearly a thoughtfulness behind these thirteen tracks of unmitigated rage, the end result of which is a rare sort of album that almost exhausts the listener as much intellectually as it does physically. It might be the most demanding 24-minutes of music any band is going to release this year, but every time I’ve sat down to listen to it I’ve ended up playing it through twice.