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'This Is Who We Are': Ithaca on Making Heavy Music Challenging Again

Thursday, 28 July 2022 Written by Will Marshall

Ithaca’s 2019 debut ‘The Language of Injury’ caused plenty of people’s ears to prick up. Fusing chaotic metalcore with experimental impulses, it was a shot in the arm the UK scene sorely needed, bringing with it equal parts scathing social commentary and scabrous riffs. But, like so many of their peers, the past few years haven’t been easy.

The band lost momentum to the pandemic and also weathered the demise of their former label, Holy Roar, which folded in the autumn of 2020 following allegations of sexual misconduct being levelled at founder Alex Fitzpatrick by a number of women (he denies the accusations). As obstacles fell in their path, Ithaca kept moving forward. “It was a reckoning moment,” guitarist Sam Chetan-Welsh says. “Holy Roar was a place where people came from the UK scene, they could be relied on as a cohering point with lots of amazing bands.” 

But Ithaca have always championed inclusivity, diversity and challenging the status quo— they simply couldn’t remain on the label once news broke. Instead they cut ties and found a new home in Hassle Records. A promo shot at the time showed a band full of beaming smiles, without a hint of the chaos they were about to unleash with the scorching album they were preparing. 'They Fear Us' is an expansion on its predecessor’s aims in every way, with broader sonic and visual palettes utilised to create not just a body of music but an artistic statement. 

The title describes their ambition, certainly, but the true scope of this LP staggering, fusing inspiration from the band members’ ancestral heritages and queer identities with grabs from iconic figures in new wave, post-punk and the avant-garde. Sonically, their brand of mayhem now includes elements of pop, classic rock, industrial and blackgaze. But Ithaca pull it off without breaking a sweat. “It is all very intentional,” Sam explains. “We took the time to understand what the central ideas are, who we are, and what we’re trying to say as a band. But [also] what’s the aesthetic? Everything ties together under the central “They Fear Us” theme.”

That “they” is multifaceted. It’s patriarchal power, it’s colonialism, it’s misogyny, it’s racism and it’s the othering of anyone deemed different to the “norm”. Ithaca knew they wanted to challenge this at every turn, and not just for themselves. “This is who we are,” Sam says. “We will not apologise for the influences we draw from, and what we would hope, even if it does sound a bit up our own arses, is that we inspire other bands to do the same and let themselves off the leash a bit.” 

They see disruption as something every heavy band should aspire to. That needs to be said from time to time because while it’s a scene that prides itself on being countercultural, it can also be beholden to a whole lot of rules. Ithaca’s visual language snaps back at this—in recent photos vocalist Djamila Boden-Azzouz has sported a luminous orange dress, with Sam, drummer James Lewis, guitarist Will Sweet, and bassist Dom Moss in white tops—and is matched by an equally striking musical counterpoint.

The title track is a particularly personal moment for Sam. Heading to India after his mother died, he travelled and grieved. During a Ganga Aarti ceremony close to the Ganges, he recorded a snippet of a ritual. “It’s often where people send spirits who have passed on into the next life, so grief is kind of a part of the context of those ceremonies as well as it being a regular, daily ritual where people welcome in the Mother Goddess from the river,” he explains. 

This field recording is heard amid a drum break that’s pitched up to sound like dhol percussion. By fusing these musical strands they are acknowledging complexity: echoes of colonialism next to a celebration of family, Mother Ganga and the divine feminine. This idea is furthered in the striking video for the title track, which was recorded amid the generational riches at a stately home. “We’re occupying space,” Sam says simply of that decision. 

In true disruptive Ithaca fashion, they save the final curveball for last. The closing track, Hold, Be Held is like nothing we’ve heard from them before. Sam says it’s like nothing anyone’s heard before. “No one in hardcore has ever brought any of this influence in,” he states categorically. It is an R&B ballad straight out of the ‘90s that ends an already stunning album in an arresting fashion, with Boden-Azzouz turning in her most soulful performance to date. 

“We’re living in a really exciting age of disruptive guitar and heavy music…some records that came out while we were writing that made me think we’re on the right track,” Sam observes. “We’re slowly starting to crack open a door of opportunity in terms of what kind of aesthetic and sound can be explored.” 

Where grunge’s plaid shirts and jeans put paid to hyper-masculine glam, Ithaca hope to carve something new into the heavy music scene, and they aren’t alone. “Turnstile working with Blood Orange, this is what we’re talking about,” he enthuses of the breakout hardcore stars’ recent collaboration with Dev Hynes.

It’s evident, though, that Ithaca are far more than just boundary smashers—they are determined to blaze a trail wholly their own, tearing down the old order and making room for one far more inclusive and caring. 'They Fear Us' accomplishes all of this and more, paying homage to its influences while finding balance through a meticulous, thoughtful approach to its creation. In short, Ithaca are right. If you stand in their way, and against positive change, you most definitely should fear them.

Ithaca's 'They Fear Us' is out on July 29 via Hassle Records.


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