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Earlier this month, Toyota put an end to Scion, a 13-year-old brand made with young people in mind. Executives failed to magnetize millennial drivers as the recession had its way with the company’s target audience, but in an effort to woo twentysomethings, Scion became an unexpected focal point for disparate underground sounds. As a way to get its name in front of youngsters, Scion funded and released music by subversive hip-hop, electronic, and metal acts. Among them: D.C. grindcore three-piece Magrudergrind. Dogmatic grind fans considered the result of that partnership, 2010’s Crusher EP, a failure by association, but Magrudergrind never let anyone else’s ethical code warp its sense of what feels right—and what sounds right.
Magrudergrind have largely been silent in the six years since Crusher. But late last year, the group publicly put the wheels in motion for the imminent release of an album called II. Its third full-length album comes amid noticeable changes for Magrudergrind. II is the band’s first album for venerable underground metal label Relapse Records. This is the first album without workhorse drummer Chris Moore, who joined Magrudergrind shortly after vocalist Avi Kulawy launched the group as a student at Walter Johnson High School in 2002 (full disclosure: I attended Walter Johnson at the same time). Moore was Magrudergrind’s last residential link to this city: Kulawy and guitarist R.J. Ober now call Brooklyn home, and its new drummer, Casey Moore, plays in a hardcore-heavy Brooklyn grind outfit Psychic Limb.
Location change notwithstanding, Magrudergrind’s outsider spirit remains pivotal to its cause. That spirit developed while the group evolved in a D.C. scene unsure of what to make of its unassailable blast beats, insurrect guitar riffs, and acidic squalls. Gone, in part, is some of the grit and grime that clung to the band’s frenetic assaults—no matter how much whiplash its songs might induce. II is crystalline, a reflection of Magrudergrind’s adroit precision.
Magrudergrind lashes out against the dregs of humanity with a robotic accuracy and the kind of speed Internet companies claim to control. Its relentless, nonstop intensity—large portions of II rarely leave a seconds reprieve, not nearly enough time for the heat-vapor to emerge from Ober’s guitar—is fit for this exhausting information age. Contemporary issues burble throughout II: The previously released “Sacrificial Hire” concerns the fog of conformity that keeps blood flowing through Jihadist movements, though it’s hard to make out specific lyrical points from a single pass of the minute-and-a-half blitz.
Kulawy’s confrontation, acerbic lyrics and singing make up a fraction of Magrudergrind’s hurricane approach. II requires multiple listens to begin to unravel the band’s complex direction. During one listen I was so enraptured by Moore’s drumming, which moves like a sped-up imperialist march but propelled with a rebellious heart, that Ober’s guitars and Kulawy’s screams passed like trucks on the highway. The band’s desire to explore different speeds, and its innate sense of when to do so, makes II a bruiser. When the melodic swing of “Icaro” comes into the picture, it’s easier to want to return for more lumps.