“Love is a disgusting thing.” This line, repeated over and over again throughout “Hyperventilationsystem,” is one of the most affecting moments on a record for me. And it’s not just the words – as callous as they might be (and truer than I care to admit) – but also the way vocalist Alexis Marshall unravels as he sings/howls them each time, combined with the piercing guitars hysterically spazzing out beneath, that give the sentiment even more of a soul-crushing impact. It embraces that anxiety-ridden feeling that’s at the center of any good mathcore, which extends beyond this track and throughout the entire 23 spellbinding minutes of Hell Songs – the 2006 album from Providence, Rhode Island’s Daughters.
After releasing a stellar, yet unbearably short, album – 2003’s Canada Songs (featuring 10 tracks in 11 minutes) – the band’s second album and Hydra Head debut marked a transition for them musically. As well as doubling the album’s length, Hell Songs shifted further into noise rock territory and Daughters did the unthinkable: they changed the vocal style. The shredding screams from their debut were replaced by dynamic, singing/yelling, encompassing a wide range of emotive tones, from resonant drawls to fervent cries.
In a 2007 interview with Exclaim!‘s Chris Gramlich, Marshall said: “It’s intimidating [to be in this band]. These guys can play. I don’t want to be like, ‘You guys be impressive and I’ll just scream.’ We’re not a band like that. Our music is not like that, so why should the singing be like other bands?”
While the change was a risky move and alienated some fans, it’s one of my favorite things about this forward-thinking record and made me admire the incredibly talented band even more. Just like Marshall said, their music is not like other bands and the new vocal direction definitely isn’t either, which set them further apart from all the other bands doing the noisy, grindy mathcore thing. It’s different and unexpected, which is exactly what this type of sound is about.
Hell Songs still maintains the tech-based mathy grind elements that Daughters introduced with Canada Songs, but they refined and matured it while adding a more artistic flair. The frenzied tempos, double-bass drumming and spastic noodling are packaged in thoughtfully-structured songs, yet still have a tension-filled, disoriented vibe. And the vocals, which teeter between sounding like inebriated moans and neurotic freak outs, complement that surprisingly well.
“Daughters Spelled Wrong” features steady rhythms layered with unrestrained avant-garde guitar noise, while Marshall’s voice adds even more dimension to the band’s sound, establishing their new approach right off the bat. Tracks like “Fiery” and “Recorded Inside a Pyramid” reinstate the band’s penchant for the chaotic, with squealing techy guitars, intense drumming and disorderly staccato breaks.
“Providence By Gaslight” is one of the most interesting tracks on the record, featuring trumpet and violin by guest musicians (who happened to be members of the exceptionally weird post-rock band Kayo Dot at the time), while shrilling tones and reverberating dissonance build up a frantic, unsettling pace. The compellingly-titled “The Fuck Whisperer” ends Hell Songs on an even more bizarre note (if that’s possible), combining angular leads and divergent rhythms with overwrought vocals in the oddest of odd timings.
Then it’s over before you even know what the fuck is happening, which makes the whole thing all the more dramatic and gloriously frustrating. Daughters have never been ones to overstay their welcome, after all, and the challenging and unpredictable Hell Songs is no exception, adding to its superbly unique appeal.