“It’s difficult to sum up my feelings on this year. It’s been hopeless and frustrating and depressing, to be honest.” Madi Watkins, bassist of Year Of The Knife, doesn’t mince her words when asked about her reaction to the events of 2020 thus far. “There is so much pain and injustice towards black and brown people in the US specifically, and when you stack the pandemic and the issues across the world on top of that, it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
It’s a sentiment many of us will share. Year Of The Knife’s newest album Internal Incarceration expresses these feelings of frustration in the way that the Delaware band knows best, through pure, cathartic rage. It’s an absolute hurricane of an album, a stripped-to-the-bone, lean and mean work of hardcore punk fury. It’s also one of the best heavy albums of the year, in any subgenre.
However, like many releases this year, the album suffered its setbacks. “It was pushed back from May to July to August,” Madi explains, “the wait was torture, but we agreed to push it back in the hopes that we might be able to tour as close to its release as we could.” And like all musicians across the world, Year Of The Knife have no idea when the touring cycle they’re so familiar with will resume. “As soon as we’re able to get back on tour, we want to go everywhere. I think we’re all past the point of cabin fever and very ready to be back on the road.”
Internal Incarceration is a work built on the band’s deeply entrenched personal philosophies. All members claim straight-edge, and don’t shy away from letting it bleed into their music’s thematics. “Straight edge is something that will always feel relevant to me because of my personal reasoning behind it,” Madi answers when asked about her feelings on the ethos’ relevance to our current world. “I think people feel really lost and afraid and it is easy to self medicate and rely on substances to try and get you through the uncertainty and pain of the world. I really feel for people that are suffering with addiction right now or turning back to old habits because the world feels so fucked.”
The addiction theme runs right through Internal Incarceration, like a muscle stretched taut across a bone. Tracks ‘Slick Statistic’ and ‘Through The Eyes’ in particular are direct portraits of the lives broken by the epidemic of opiate addiction in America. This crisis is a uniquely American one, as Madi explains; “Doctors in America get a kickback from pharmaceutical companies for prescribing their drugs, so for years and years now, opioids have been overprescribed. These doctors get their patients fully reliant on prescription painkillers, and then do nothing to help them once they become addicts.”
The consequences of this systemic abuse can be devastating, and is something that Year Of The Knife, like many Americans, have witnessed first hand. “It’s a downward spiral that has gotten completely out of control, and has been especially bad in Delaware since we were kids.” Madi continues. “People abuse their prescriptions and take more than they should or the prescription runs out, and when they can’t afford to buy painkillers illegally, they go for the cheap high with heroin.”
The band’s take-no-prisoners view of addiction is smartly expanded upon across Internal Incarceration. Album highlight ‘Virtual Narcotic’ is a savage take down of social media, a blistering attack on its numbing, addictive qualities. When asked about the band’s relationship to social media, Madi expresses mixed feelings; “I have a love/hate relationship with social media. Everyone puts up a front online and you only see these rose coloured slices of people’s lives. On the flip side, without social media my business, Candy Corpse, would not have been able to grow into what it is today, so I’m grateful for the outlet.”
Year Of The Knife are clearly wise beyond their years. There’s a real sense of steely-eyed determination and clarity of purpose within not only their thematics, but also their musical ambitions. Nowhere is this more visible than in their pilgrimage to GodCity Studios in Massachusetts to record Internal Incarceration with legendary producer and Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou.
Madi is as clear as ever when asked about Ballou’s influence. “Kurt has been a huge influence on the band, both as a musician and a producer. Converge has been one of my favourite bands since high school, and Kurt has produced some of my favorite artists, so to be able to work with him was a dream.”
The album’s songwriting is excellent, more focused and streamlined than Year Of The Knife’s previous work. Did Ballou have a hand in this? “Once we were in the studio, Kurt gave us incredible direction with tightening up tempos and tempo changes, as well as suggesting some transitions to add or lose,” Madi answers. “He also worked with us each for several hours to nail down the tone and sound of the guitars which made a huge difference on the production of the record.”
And what songs Year Of The Knife and Ballou crafted on Internal Incarceration. From ‘Nothing To Nobody’ and it’s punishing breakdown (one of the best you’ll hear all year) to the anthemic, future fan-favourite ‘Stay Away’, the album is almost a distillation of the turmoil of 2020, a white-hot, pained howl from the void.
Year Of The Knife address these complex, difficult emotions with nuance and skill. Madi explains why the band are so drawn to the darkness; “Most heavy music is fueled by sadness and anger, but more often than not anger is what comes through lyrically. Culturally, expressing rage is related to strength or power while expressing sadness and pain is related to weakness. I think there is strength in vulnerability and in baring yourself for people to see.”
This last answer is one of real maturity. It adroitly expresses Year Of The Knife’s philosophy, as does Madi’s conclusion to the question; “It’s important for music to express and convey the entire spectrum of emotion, because the people listening are able to connect it to their own experiences and feel less alone.” This is certainly something that we could use more of in these dark days, and something that Year Of The Knife deserves huge plaudits for attempting.
Internal Incarceration is out now via Pure Noise Records. Purchase the album here.