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Combating Your Demons — Street Sects’ ‘The Kicking Mule’ Album

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The urban Hardcore scene is riddled with begrudged souls and content marauders. This has always been the case since Hardcore’s augmentation from the 1980’s and throughout. Going to a Hardcore show is like no other experience. Not many other event fanatics treat each other as dear friends in the waiting line, only to stoush each other dearly in the mosh pit.

Street Sects is only one of the almost infinite number of bands out there who accentuate the culture with their resonating grief. It must be such an experience seeing them live, watching the drummer pummel his instrument as the banging thumps and bangs of the performance recalibrates throughout the whole venue.

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Their previous album, End Position, was a call for cathartic chaos. The album was a frightening experience. Each song in the album yelped and screeched, perhaps not for help, but at least for assurance. Throughout the sparse screams that protrude through the industrious noises and bangs, there is a poem of sorrow. Through the initial listen, it felt nihilistic. Perhaps it is or isn’t.

Although, it probably wouldn’t have mattered. It was meant to portray the vices of life, not through gleaming glamour or masculine undertones, but through harsh noises and brutal depictions of debauched existence.

Stories ranging from the perils of drug addiction to losing loved ones, there’s a tone of sadness in each song. The duo, vocalist Leo Ashline and instrumentalist Shaun Ringsmuth, are compelled in their own talents to create something beyond their vision.

It’s maddening to hear something so uniquely polished and emotively consistent from mainly two artists, with the support of fellow engineers and musicians of course.

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End Position was released near the Autumn of 2016. Two years later, after various singles and collaborations, they’ve announced their upcoming project, The Kicking Mule. Introducing their announcement with the macabre album cover of the purple-paletted scene with polygonal intrusions of black shadows, I was more or less expecting another revision of End Position.

What fans got instead was completely flipped and inspired. While End Position displayed the tensions of despair, this album displays the power of fighting back. Without pontificating the need for vengeance, Street Sects resorts to another series of storytelling.

The Kicking Mule still submits its stories into a similar environment from before. The traits of the characters still relate to the negative connotations of a typically urban, poverty-stricken portion of the city. The characters in the story are submitted to circumstances by murder, suicide, vagrancy, and drug abuse.

Many of the characters here admit to the disadvantages of their situations. In the example of the track Everyone’s at Home Eventually, Ashline foretells the story with a character that is omitted of any physical attributes. All we know is that it is told in the first person. The poem foretells the story of a teenager who fell into the habit of obsessive drinking, with no ambition or drives kept in mind.

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Their obsession, before he or she knows it, leads them to get arrested. After the victim is freed, they ruminate about their vague “fears,” insisting on getting clean and becoming whole, without supplemented drunkenness.

Besides the storytelling, the other essential half is the sound difference between the two projects. In End Position, the music was paranoid, bombastic, and perhaps an emulation of schizophrenic delirium. The loud thuds and metal bangs helped by the wailing synthesizers and aggressive guitars made for a well-rounded nightmare.

This time, Street Sects have warped their music to sound a little more comprehensible. The sounds are still industrial and the stories could be nihilistic at some points, but there is an element of concentration, I would think, that Street Sects would want their fans to understand.

The nightmarish, hell-raising noise is gone and substituted for metallic, often fast-paced, often slowed-down, placate version of the industrial sound. The music here makes use more of 808 breaks and guitar-riffs. Ashline’s scream for help has mainly wallowed and is now seemingly more transparent. The ghouls are less threatening, and the only thing left of them are despair and solitude.

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I’ve begun to notice this with tracks such as In for a World of Hurt. The story here isn’t clear. There are no characters or defined setting. Instead, it seems to be a direct calling. The heeded words perhaps warning the listener to never let his or her guard down.

Don’t ever let anyone

Let you believe you’re anything more

Than a failure.

In between defeats, I was on my way

To somewhere I called home.

The song Dial Down the Neon is such a riveting warning to never let your back fall. The song is told from the first-person point of view, recalling how many times pain and disappointment have tried to knock you down, that you only become more hard-headed and continue to capture the bull by its horns.

The album ends with a poignant coda that wraps up all the transparent debauchery and minuscule sense of hope. The last song, The Drifter, is a penance against self-effacing and all for self-control.

One more rejection

And one by one your virtues slip away

You feel cold and dejected but,

Nothing hurts you now.

Nothing makes you ashamed now.

One door opens.

Through all its grief and drudgery, the narrator, or perhaps the character he’s talking about, still has the strength to fight back, even after all those experiences portrayed by him and others in the album.

As the character has now learned to accept reality and throw his fist up towards his circumstances, hopefully, the young hardcore fanatics have or will learn to do the same against their pain.



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