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Tørsö - "Build and Break" | Album Review

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by Wes Muilenburg (@nuclearwessels9)

It’s tempting to group all “angry” music together. The songs are heavy and loud; therefore, they must be inspired by the state of things at large. Society must have really gotten to these people, and their only way of coping was to make fire-and-brimstone noise. Personal strife is nearly invalidated when this view is held. However, the line between individual and societal is not so well defined. Rage at injustice melds with self-hatred. “Meaningless, meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” goes the beginning of the book of Ecclesiastes. Such a statement could be the creed of countless bands. Futility becomes the norm. Yet, through it all, bands like Tørsö manage to rage against the dying of the light.

Tørsö is a classically-styled hardcore band out of the Bay Area and Build and Break is their latest foray into fury. The vegan/straightedge quartet has been making glorious d-beats for the last five years, releasing records on iconic labels like Sorry State Records and now Revelation Records. Jack Shirley (of Deafheaven and Jeff Rosenstock fame) has produced their last three releases. The band’s cred is established without even hearing a second of music. Fortunately, the songs more than live up to the hype.

Each of the four tracks serves as a cohesive yet timeless statement. There is no sense of era on Build and Break – it sounds like the late-80s youth crew sound pioneered by bands like Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits as much as it does recent breakouts like Candy and Gouge Away. What sets the new EP apart from past releases is first and foremost more expansive songwriting. The band’s 2015 full-length Sono Pronta a Morire (which translates to “I’m ready to die”) tracked in condensed paragraphs of whole-throated howls of wrath. It’s a totally unforgiving ride that whiplashes the listener more than a rollercoaster from hell. 

Build and Break hardly relents, even as it does more with the same building blocks of sound and fury. Vocalist Mae latches onto repeated phrases and spits them out like a rapid-fire volcano. The opening salvo of the title track is anchored by an absolution found in four words – “You’ll never break me.” It’s a middle finger to adversity and a resilient statement of purpose. Being broken is no sin, as long as one learns from it. Strength is borne from the fragmented process of self-destruction. When you’re your own worst enemy, nothing can compare, especially not another person. “Build and Break” invites you to spit in the face of the eternally crushing thing we call existence.

For every moment of defiance, there is a moment of defeat. If knowing oneself brings power, it also brings breakdown. “I don’t need more time to self-reflect / All I do is lose self-respect” is the depressive manifesto couched in the heart of “Grab A Shovel.” The only thing more futile than fighting is expecting change, especially from the inside out. Closing track “Sick of Fighting” portrays living as an “endless road” full of suffering.  Ktrü shreds with a symphony of knives as the brutal rhythm section of Giacomo and Jasmine shatters the earth. It sounds like a concert during a cave-in. The EP descends into Tartarus over the course of only 7 minutes and 3 seconds.

Led by the relentless performance of Mae, Tørsö crafts a testament to the process of surviving. There’s no question as to whether we’ll keep going. It’s more about how much we’ll lose and eventually gain. We build, then we break.