Ah, the burden of linear time. If only 2007 came before 2002, I could listen to Usurper and not be surprised by how directly the members of the Handshake Murders crib their off-time, pitch-bending riffs from Meshuggah’s Nothing. If 2007 came before 1999, I could be convinced that Coalesce’s Sean Ingram took his projectile-vomit vocal style from the Handshake Murders’ Jayson Holmes, and not the other way around. And if the second track of Usurper came before the first-well, they sound so similar that I probably wouldn’t notice.
It’s best to listen to Usurper, the Handshake Murders’ first full-length, after you’ve accepted that it offers little we haven’t already heard from a dozen other technical metalcore bands. That way you’ll be able to appreciate the band’s songs as the disgustingly heavy, complicated and ferocious lumps of rhythmic mind-fuckery that they are.
Imitators they may be, but the Handshake Murders are too good at what they do to be dismissed as just that. “Dissector” opens the album with an unfinished game of hide and seek with the downbeat. “Mind Bender” dares the hardcore kids to keep up with its hit parade of breakdowns, each combustible enough to carry an entire Norma Jean song by itself. And “Apostate” and “Myopia” slay all Matrix-style, freezing their riffs mid-stream, spinning them around, speeding them back up and then blowing them apart.
Every down stroke, palm mute and double-kick roll adds heft to a tightly coiled rhythmic bludgeon, giving Usurper an oppressively brutish, tense and Neanderthalic momentum. The consistency gets tiring, especially when combined with Holmes’s unvarying (and unintelligible) vocal style, so the taut, thirty-two-minute runtime is welcome. That’s long enough to decide whether Usurper is a defibrillator for a moribund metalcore scene or another indication that the genre’s heart has already stopped beating. I’ll go with the former-if only because the Handshake Murders sound mean enough to hunt me down and kill me if I don’t.