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The Sound of the Underground: Tourmates Ithaca and Leeched on Forging Their Path in UK Metal

Friday, 24 May 2019 Written by Matt Mills


“It’s difficult to be objective about something that was happening while you were at a young age,” ponders Djamila Azzouz, the lead singer of London-based hardcore upstarts Ithaca.

“I was actually quite young when all that was going on, too,” replies Laurie Morbey, the frontman of the ferociously heavy Manchester band Leeched. “I was in secondary school and, to be honest, it was kind of above me. I didn’t really understand it.”

The two musicians, whose bands embark on a co-headline tour together beginning on May 28 in Birmingham, are doing their best to recall the melodic metalcore scene that dominated the UK during the tail-end of the noughties.

It was a movement—led by hungry, catchy outfits like Bring Me the Horizon, Asking Alexandria and Bullet for My Valentine—that set the entire country on fire for several years. By blending metallic riffs, hardcore screaming, rock ‘n’ roll-inspired choruses and emo lyrical content, it elbowed its way into the mainstream numerous times.

Ten years ago, British metalcore was a national institution. Today, however, the genre is a far cry from the catchy, anthem-dispensing, radio-friendly style that it was back then. In recent years, bands like Ithaca, Leeched, Employed to Serve, Loathe, Mastiff, MTXS, Allfather and Parting Gift have taken it in a much rawer direction.

British metalcore in 2019 is far more riotous, anarchic and brutal than ever before. While the likes of Bring Me the Horizon emphasised hook-happy choruses—much to the chagrin of metal elitists—Ithaca, Leeched and their contemporaries specialise in pure, unfettered, existential rage. It’s a grungy and abrasive style of music, calling back to the genre’s very roots.

“When those bands like Bullet for My Valentine came out, they weren’t really my thing,” Djamila says. “At the time, I didn’t view it as being metalcore. It didn’t have those same qualities that I recognise metalcore as having from the start.”

The term “metalcore” was coined in 1990s America, when Converge, Martyr A.D., Disembodied and others began to experiment with fusing metallic riffs with the pace and percussion of hardcore punk. It was dank and underground, until the likes of Trivium and Killswitch Engage were able to appropriate it to coincide with a revival of traditional, more melodic heavy metal music.

Leeched. Photo: Tom Lee

From there, it leapt across the pond and became a commercial juggernaut. “You can definitely put fingers on when things started to take off,” Laurie says. “If you wanted to ask where it all began, you could definitely say that it was around Converge.”

“But then it turned into something more melodic,” Djamila interjects. “And that’s what I think people know metalcore as being. The phrase ‘metalcore’ has become synonymous with that group of bands from the 2000s; that’s not what metalcore is. Those bands had melodic sensibilities that hardcore doesn’t have.”

After taking the UK by storm, the late-noughties metalcore scene burnt brightly, but only for a short time. During the early-to-mid-2010s, many of those pioneers began to fly closer and closer to the sun, wanting to retain their pop-cultural relevance.

Bring Me the Horizon became a full-blown pop rock band on ‘That’s the Spirit’. Bullet for My Valentine struggled to maintain their metal/rock balance with the career-derailing ‘Temper Temper’. Electronic metalcore purveyors Enter Shikari became increasingly infatuated with alternative rock. Asking Alexandria fumbled with line-up changes before themselves turning to pop for guidance.

Almost concurrently to these superstars splintering, bands like Employed to Serve and Ithaca were quietly commencing their careers. They played shows on underground stages to anybody and everybody, quietly infecting the UK metalcore scene with their rowdier and more abrasive takes on the genre.

“When we first started, the shit we were writing wasn’t in vogue,” Djamila recalls. “People liked it because it had a ‘90s throwback element to it, but what we were writing didn’t fit in with what was fashionable in metal or hardcore at the time.”

As if by happenstance, a number of external factors came into play to help this new metalcore underground grow and flourish. For a start, American genre revivalists like Code Orange and Knocked Loose were on the rise at the exact same time as these British youngsters, generating a worldwide buzz.

However, Employed to Serve’s lead singer, Justine Jones, thinks the source of new metalcore’s recent appeal extends even further than that. She recalls how the scene was also aided by a number of ‘90s pioneers reuniting after previously calling it quits.

Employed to Serve

“It’s hard to pinpoint one single influential moment,” she says. “But I think it might have been because of a lot of bands reforming: Martyr A.D., Disembodied. They all did reunion shows and then Misery Signals started becoming more active again. Then Underoath came back as well.

“Plus, it’s fashion,” she continues. “Fashion comes in waves. Right now, the ‘90s are in: metalcore’s in, as well as Machine Head and early Slipknot. Everything comes in circles; all it took was Disembodied or Underoath coming back and going, ‘Ooh, remember this?’ Then, all of a sudden, there’s a domino effect.”

In addition, Leeched’s Laurie offers another perspective. He says that modern metalcore’s more succinctly aggressive, cathartic sound has let the movement tap into discussions of mental health and depression, which have become more and more prominent as the decade has progressed.

“Maybe people of my generation are more inclined that way,” he explains. “So now there’s darker, more miserable music. That’s the way the world is now, I guess: it’s because it’s OK to be sad.”

Simultaneously tapping into both nostalgia and contemporary mindsets, underground metalcore is currently the UK’s prime heavy music export. And, unlike the more melodic metalcore scene that this new one is rebelling against, it feels like anything but a flash in the pan.

“In five years, I think it will be even bigger than it is now,” concludes Laurie. “I just think it will keep going. As long as people are open with each other, heavy, emotional music like this is just going to keep becoming more popular.”

With Ithaca and Leeched about to play together across the country, and Employed to Serve reaping critical acclaim with their new ‘Eternal Forward Motion’ album, it’s clear that this lot aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Nor are the dozens of bands currently rising in the British underground ranks in their jet-stream.

Ithaca and Leeched Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue May 28 2019 - BIRMINGHAM Victoria
Wed May 29 2019 - GLASGOW Classic Grand 
Thu May 30 2019 - MANCHESTER Star And Garter
Fri May 31 2019 - LEEDS Temple Of Boom 
Sat June 1 2019 - BOURNEMOUTH Anvil
Sun June 2 2019 - CARDIFF Fuel 

Click here to compare & buy Ithaca Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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