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If Darker Handcraft was a fight it would be a massacre to cause a permanent wince to impose itself on the onlooker's face - but also the kind that'd be utterly captivating. You wouldn't be able to take your eyes off it. That's what Trap Them have done with their third album: they've written something unreservedly brutal yet completely inspiring. It's a confounding situation.
There's been a trend over the past couple of years of young heavy bands mixing hardcore and blackened death metal. It's no bad thing. There have been excellent debuts from Kvelertak and Black Breath, and with Trap Them moving from the relative safety of Deathwish Inc to Prosthetic Records the ball was in their court to show the young pretenders the way. The results here are the musical equivalent of a crosscourt passing shot: you can only applaud.
Now that drummer Chris Maggio is a permanent member there is stability to their sound that wasn't seen in past work, and Kurt Ballou has taken their improved songwriting and helped them craft a masterpiece. His production skills elevate these songs to greatness.
The difference between Darker Handcraft and its two predecessors - 2007's Sleepwell Deconstructor and 2008's Seizures in Barren Praise - is the inclusion of mid-tempo songs here, where melodies and choruses really shine. The two outstanding tracks are most definitely Evictionaries and The Facts. While the former contains probably the catchiest hook guitarist Brian Izzi has ever written, the refrain in the latter of "I am that goddamned son of a b**" is one of the most memorable lines in heavy music in 2011. What follows - "I want the cancer / I want the famine / I want the flood / I want the plague" - is evidence enough of Ryan McKenney's commitment to being one of the nastiest vocalists around. To say that he screams those words doesn't do his delivery justice.
Following the big sing-along (relatively speaking) of The Facts with three fleeting but furious rampages - Manic in the Grips comes in at under a minute long - is exactly the kind of behaviour expected of Trap Them: at no point do they offer respite. Darker Handcraft is a half-hour statement from a band not only on the top of their game but currently ruling over everyone else's. The Louisville/Seattle trio has delivered an album that every fan of extreme music should own. Bravo.