Sometimes a record’s title perfectly captures everything you need to know about the music contained within. ‘Narok Bon Din’, Bangkok-based metalcore quintet Whispers’ debut EP, translates to “hell on earth”, and it’s hard to imagine a more suitable title for the 21 minutes of music on offer here.
Whispers play metalcore in the ’90s vein, harkening back to the days before the genre was dominated by third-rate variations on At The Gates’ ‘Slaughter Of The Soul’ and clean, melodic choruses. The five-piece’s sound is brutal and uncompromising, dragging the listener through a hellscape of metallic riffing and massive breakdowns, propelled by hard-hitting drumming and a coruscating vocal performance.
The band aren’t shy about their veneration of bands like Kickback, Arkangel, and Merauder. ‘Morbid Vision’, the first full song after an ominous, tension-building intro, is a wholesale tribute to French metalcore act Kickback’s classic track ‘On The Prowl’. Whispers build their riffs out of similar palm-muting and picking patterns, and even the overarching structure of their track takes after the Kickback song. The two are similar enough that it can’t be coincidence, but Whispers arguably bring enough to the table to make it their own.
‘Morbid Vision’ is something of a listener litmus test for the entire EP: If you’re turned off by the similarities, you won’t find much to enjoy here, but it’s likely that Whispers didn’t have you in mind to begin with. ‘Morbid Vision’ is a clear statement of the band’s reverence for a particular period of metalcore, and their intention to execute it to the best of their ability.
This reverence and deep understanding of what makes the best metalcore tick is evident in spades on ‘Narok Bon Din’. ‘Chaos Breed’’s thrash-inspired riffing and the punishing breakdowns on ‘Hell On Earth’ are picture-perfect examples of how to whip a hardcore crowd into a frenzy. This is music made to be experienced live, but it holds up even in your headphones, precisely because Whispers are such ardent students of the craft.
The music is consistently aggressive and in-your-face, but it’s never flat or one-note; the push-and-pull between the high-speed metal riffing, half-time bridges, and occasional clean guitar break ensures that the listener’s attention is maintained throughout. Each new riff, song section, or tempo change comes in at the exact right time. All this is bolstered by the fact that there isn’t a bad riff on the EP.
Whispers are in full command on ‘Narok Bon Din’, ratcheting up the tension and excitement before releasing it in the form of cathartic, floor-punching breakdowns and mid-paced riffage. Whispers are masters of the breakdown, and every single one on the EP is intensely memorable. Highlights include ‘Chaos Breed’’s mid-song breakdown, where they pair a punishing palm-muted chug with dissonant descending scales. It’s such a good trick that they repeat it again towards the end of ‘Demon’, with equally effective results.
There’s also a death metal influence that rears its head from time to time. Whether it’s the atonal tremolo-picked riffs on closer ‘Dead End Path’ or the mid-paced death/thrash stomp of ‘Hell On Earth’, Whispers weave it into their music seamlessly. But those brief flirtations with death metal are probably the only departures from the well-trodden realms of 1990s metalcore you’ll encounter here, as there’s little in the way of experimentation or stylistic divergence on ‘Narok Bon Din’.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. On one hand, Whispers’ stylistic conservatism holds them back from a full crossover. But the band seem to have had only one goal in mind: write six songs that embody the best of what the metalcore genre has historically had to offer. In that regard, ‘Narok Bon Din’ is a resounding success. It might not sound original, but Whispers’ finely honed songwriting and non-stop barrage of quality riffs are proof that ‘Narok Bon Din’ is much more than a cynical, uninspired attempt to rejig ages-old tropes for a new decade.
‘Narok Bon Din’ is a resolutely old-school EP that, while targeting dyed-in-the-wool ’90s metalcore fans, has enough quality to appeal across the hardcore and metalcore spectrum. The moves are familiar, but Whispers prove that, in the right hands, they can still offer a lot of thrills for the converted.
- Release date: February 6
- Record label: Divided We Fall Records/The Coming Strife Records