DEATH PILL – Death Pill

Combining elements of hardcore punk, classic thrash metal, a little crust/d-beat intensity and the attitude of the Riot Grrrl movement of the 90s, Death Pill are genuine musical force. Throughout this debut full length, the Ukrainian three piece appear musically diverse, and although the way they jump between hardcore punk and thrash-based metal might sometimes seem as if they’re splitting loyalties between two audiences, in reality, their sound is a perfect crossover.

The band’s pure intensity is clear from the very first notes, and although ‘Dirty Rotten Youth’ doesn’t attempt to break listeners in gently, it tempers some of the punkier aspects with a lot of metal based elements, far more in keeping with the usual stock from the New Heavy Sounds label. The opening riff, in particular, calls back to the late 80s thrash boom, and specifically the way that bands like Testament and Exodus were fond of cranking tension via a lengthy instrumental opening, usually of a slow to moderate tempo. That mood is captured perfectly here via Mariana’s massive, dirty guitar sound and a set of ominous chords, before exploding into a thrashy riff that sounds like ‘Sing Sing Death House’ era Distillers bolstered by an extra slab of metal. The deep chugs that drop into the main riff quickly stoke up Death Pill’s hardcore stance before switching back to another perfect metal influenced breakdown. Eventually, the riffs settle into a punk/metal hybrid that shows off a particularly crunchy sound – both in terms of playing and production – while a forceful dual vocal adds a classic brutalist stance, falling between the Riot Grrrl anger of Bikini Kill and the unrelenting crust punk of the always underrated F-Minus. In short, it’s incredibly sharp.

That creates a great start, certainly, but there’s even better material up Death Pill’s collective sleeve. For hardcore purists, tracks like ‘Miss Revolt’ and ‘Расцарапаю Ебало’ stoke up the speed which, in turn, increases the jagged edges of an already brilliant sound. Although these tracks retain a sliver of metalcore around the edges, the ghosts of classic bands like Black Flag and Discharge loom large over the tempo and general ferocity, which definitely works in the band’s favour. Of particular note during ‘Miss Revolt’, Mariana’s unrelenting vocal style has a genuine force, and although the music is incredibly tight, her impassioned screams of rage are definitely the big draw. Even the potential language barrier with ‘Расцарапаю Ебало’ is no barrier to fully enjoying Death Pill’s take on a hardcore sound. With a really spiky edge applied to the vocal meter, a huge gang vocal boosting a shout-along hook, and a superb drum part courtesy of Anastasiya capturing the force of some great 80s hardcore sounds, there’s much to love here. Also, with Death Pill keen to pepper some classic hardcore with a more modern vigour, they don’t sound completely indebted to the past.

One of the album’s obvious highlights, ‘Друг’ opens with a superb pogo-worthy riff that sounds like a tribute to classic Bad Religion, albeit with a harder sound, before taking an unexpected shift into a melodic chorus where thunderous drums underscore and uncharacteristically clean vocal. The main hook is wordless, but insanely catchy; it revisits a world of half-remembered indie favourites, offsetting the listener, before everything explodes in a hardcore punk frenzy for a big finish. It’s almost like Death Pill have wedged all of their best musical traits into less than a minute and a half. It’s a genuine melting pot of noise, but it really works. Equally inventive, the lengthy ‘Die For Vietnam’ wields an absolutely massive bass groove courtesy of Nataliya, some finely arranged metalcore riffs – there are moments here that owe more to Trivium than any punk acts – and a world of hugely melodic lead guitar inspired by classic metal sounds. The lead vocal on this number presents a terrific cry – a huge shift from the hardcore intents of ‘Расцарапаю Ебало’ – and the riffs slide effortlessly through a world of thrash metal inspired sounds, before Mariana reverts to a world of screaming that recalls Jen from F-Minus in a particularly evil mood. Add a dual harmony vocal to the chorus and a Testament-esque instrumental break (the perfect metal backdrop), and you have a heavy track with an almost timeless brilliance. It’s a great showcase for the musicians involved.

Elsewhere, ‘Go Your Way’ explores some classic thrash metal – very much inspired by peak Slayer – and blends that with a clean vocal hook that brings out more of Death Pill’s love of metalcore. Again, it more than suggests these musicians could breeze through any metal styles that come their way. It mightn’t entirely please those who were hoping for more material in a punk vein, but it’s genuinely excellent, and those punkers will certainly get their musical kicks from ‘Would You Marry Me’, a number that takes a solid punk backdrop and adds shrill, occasionally sharped edged vocals that hark back to the early years of LA hardcore. With a manic spoken word section wedged between some great riffs, it’s a really positive way to end a great listen.

This is a fantastic record. It’s short and to the point at under half an hour, but complex enough to feel like a full blown, full length disc. It’s also just varied enough to never feel repetitive, and its combination of brutality and relative melody sets up a very broad sound throughout. With the outbreak of war occurring just before the album was completed and two of the band members subsequently leaving the country for safer places, it’s also a record that’s shrouded in a savage uncertainty, but that only makes the material feel more potent. It’s fair to say that if you’re looking for a sonic blend of hard edged attitude and neck breaking riffs on a set of songs that are more thoughtful than most, Death Pill have you covered…and then some. Highly recommended.

January 2023