Shit Liver's second studio album and third total release "Hitting The Fan"! Released on March 13th of this year on digital formats and on vinyl records (with no planned CD copies), this is the follow-up to their 2014 self-titled debut album, and was recorded at "The Shit Haus" in St. Catharine's in February 2017, with mixing and mastering handled by Matt Alvarez, who plays fiddle in their bluegrass side project Dirtfight. "Hitting the Fan" again features their original & current lineup, including guitarist Josh Penno, bassist Mike "Ralph" Kyle, and drummer Matt Baic, with all three sharing vocal duties. You can buy this album for $5 on their Bandcamp page or $20 on vinyl via mail order, at their concerts, or presumably at The Rad Zone, and while you can stream it for free on Bandcamp, consider buying it to support Shit Liver's work!
With 10 songs running for only about 22 minutes in length, let's begin our review with the first song, "Evacuation", which opens with a fake Emergency Alert System notification that takes up for the first 1/5th of the song's runtime, but adds to the sinister mood! The song has a bit of a slow burn to any part with vocals, with the crushing instrumentation building well into the first verse (past the track's halfway point), with all three guys getting moments to shine with their distinct growling styles, with Josh and Mike handling most of the gruntwork. The cowbell cymbals are a little overdone, but the guitar and bass pound through nicely, and this is an effective opener!
"Makes Me Sick", which gives Mike a solid bass solo to open before the full band kicks into high gear. Josh and Matt largely trade off vocals here, with Matt getting a nice showcase on drums to go along with it, and there are some nice screams peppered in! This is a relentless track that's plays by Shit Liver's existing playbook very well, with nary a wasted moment of crusty aggression, though I think a guitar solo would have been welcome for variance. Solid overall though! Third is "Just Take It", which runs for a whopping 13 seconds in length, and it's not even the shortest track! Featuring Josh on lead vocals, the song is another speedy, brutal composition, but it's just a quick onslaught that doesn't stand up well on it's own (though in grindcore circles, it's par for the course.) Note that the Bandcamp copy ends too soon, with the last second starting the fourth track.
That's followed by "It Won't Change", which has a slower, more deliberate opening that calls Nirvana to mind a little bit (if that's fair), with a quote by late hardcore punk singer GG Allin laid in with the music. When the song fully gets going, the ferocity of Shit Liver is back on full display, with Josh trading off with his bandmates effectively on vocals, and the cymbals are more consistent and suited to the song structure here. The pounding guitar riff and gang chorus vocals are effective, and this is another quality track on the opening half! That's followed by the relatively long "Liverated", whose first half notably features an extended verse from Matt on vocals, as well as the album's first true guitar solo, which sounds good, if a little abbreviated. The second half's pace is somewhat slowed down at points, but the track is a consistent wall of grindcore at it's peak, with Mike's bass having some nice clear moment late! Another solid track, though it does sound similar to some of it's predecessors on this album.
"Cirrhosis" (a alcoholism-related disease of the liver, naturally), with sampled audio of a police siren and breaking news reports of everything from oil and nuclear spills to the Hindenburg disaster, before oddly ending with a quote about making lemonade. The band proper slowly begins playing during this sampled section, but it doesn't solely focus on them until the 80 second mark. The verses here feel like three different songs sung by each band member stitched together in parts, aside from the guitar solo, which sounds like Josh is trying to play like a buzzing bee. It works surprisingly well overall, and it's a bit of a change of pace from the wall of sound that they've had on prior tracks! Then we have "Matt Got Beat Up By Cops", a live favourite that runs for just 68 seconds. Matt's low growl is naturally the lead vocal here, with the guys collectively screaming the song title in the choruses. The song is quick but relentless, giving Matt arguably his best vocal and drum showcase on the album, and the the riffing adds to it nicely!
Song #8 is the six seconds long "Livin' In Shit", whose runtime basically consists of the guys screaming the song's name three times while performing at their usual thunderous pace. Not much to say here, it gets the job done if you love Shit Liver, but remember that all but one of the album's other tracks are at least 11 times longer, which is far more bang for your buck.
"Wait", which was notably this album's first single and has it's own music video. For the first 1:30 or so, this song is at it's usual blistering grindcore pace with all three guys trading vocals roughly equally, with crushing riffs and speedy drums galore, but the last 30 seconds does take things in a doomier, AlgomA-esque pace. I'd be curious to hear them try this more often on newer originals, but it does shake things up a bit at this late stage, and the song lives up to prior standards! The album closes with it's title track "Hitting The Fan", and like on their debut, they're closing with the longest included track, running for just over 5 minutes. Mike's screaming vocals kick things off in high gear, largely staying on familiar territory for the first minute before slowing the pace down and giving some guitar shred time for Josh, then taking things into unusually soft, deliberate territory for a bit midway through, showing some new depths for the guys... until the grind returns for the final two minutes.
On the latter half, Josh gets some chaotic guitar soloing time, and the song eventually takes on more of a groove metal pace, before ending on a fast paced, grind-heavy note. Everyone is on their musical form here, and the song nicely dips from their usual wheelhouse into (relatively) new territory musically, helping make sure that a long song (for them) never gets boring. This is one of my highlights of "Hitting the Fan", and recommended if you like Shit Liver, but want to hear more than just 2-3 minute grindcore onslaughts! So, what are my final thoughts on "Hitting The Fan"? Well, comparisons to their 2014 debut will be inevitable, but I think that they have definitely matured as songwriters in the past 4 years, and this is an overall tighter and more fully realized record! It is shorter overall, but 5 songs here exceed 2:31 compared to 2 last time out, and unlike on that album, the longer songs aren't automatically slower and more deliberate, so they've definitely improved at pacing themselves.
The guys are more comfortable, with all three delivering vicious vocals where needed, while Josh Penno's blistering riffs, Mike Kyle's solid bass work, and Matt Baic's relentless drumming were a high quality compliment! I will say that Mike could have been more of a solo vocal presence, but for this style of singing, all three did their part. Songs like "Makes Me Sick", "Cirrhosis", and the title track are among my highlights, and the production lives up to the ferocity! It's not a perfect album though, with the cowbell-sounding cymbals
often overdone on some tracks, the two sub-15 second songs not really
standing on their own, and the minimal guitar solos didn't help either,
but I will say that listening to these songs in short succession still reminds me of how many of their songs blur together thanks to their similar styles, aggression, and pacing. Diehard fans will have nothing to complain about, but I'd love to see more doom or groove metal-styled sections.
Overall though, "Hitting the Fan" is a clear improvement on Shit Liver's debut album, and while this crusty punk/death metal hybrid isn't for all tastes, genre fans will definitely want to pick up a copy of this album, especially if you have a record player handy, and you can do so at the above links! I hope you guys liked this month's CD review, and as for next month? Barring a sudden high profile album release, I am leaning towards reviewing local black metal solo project Abhorrent Forest's March EP "To See Eternity" on the site this month, so look for our next review at some point in May, and stay tuned for more news and notes on the site next month! Thanks everyone!