DC Hardcore was there when no one else was, churning out some of the movement’s best music in the 1980s when the world thought punk rock died after its initial explosion in the previous decade. The scene’s dedication to no-nonsense craftsmanship and artistic bravery pervades to this day, as exemplified by newcomers Sideshow Cinema with their sophomore release. Palace perfectly balances the lurching chaos and uncompromising heaviness of metallic hardcore with its melodic and compositional eccentricities.
“A Shell Of…” kicks off the record with Mackenzie Gallagher’s old school thrashcore riffage and rhythmic deviance. Sam Freeman’s vocals tie things together with raw anger, allowing the band to remain centered around brazen power in the face of veracious musicality. The following “Code Reading Code” exemplifies the same principle in the midst of the album’s first real breakdown punctuated by dissonant feedback stabs. Even as drums and guitars gain complexity, the song still boils down to primal aggression and primitive execution. The point being, this album has something for everyone.
Palace avoids the metalcore cliche of killing time until the breakdown, slam or whatever gets the core-kids ninja dancing, as exemplified by “Pissing Against the Moon’s” riff-a-minute romp. Generic chugging takes a backseat as punk-inspired chords leap through speakers on the back of Nelson Ticas’ cut-and-dry punk drumming. In a similar way “Dancing in Traffic” grounded the song the classic hardcore aesthetic while throwing in the songwriting chops one might expect from early Converge or Thoughts of Ionesco. This allows Sideshow Cinema to deal its hand incrementally and keep each cut consistently compelling.
“Orchestra” lives up to its name with the guitars embracing a much more melodic sensibility, while “The House Harkonnen” smashes listeners in the face with jackhammer drumming and thick riffs. Whether it be propulsive low end reminiscent of Funeral of God-era Zao or nasty mosh riffs, Palace always finds a way to add personal touches in the midst of a decidedly familiar template. On that note, Freeman’s vocals are arguably the most platitudinous aspect of the record. They don’t surprise the same way the instrumentals do, but they effectively reign in the album during its many twists and turns.
“Torrence” uses time changes, angular guitar work and inventive chord changes to keep listeners guessing in between ultra-heavy half-time passages. They use their breakdowns sparingly, with Ticas’ destructive backbeat servicing deliciously dissonant riffs and a crushingly sludgy bass tone. Sideshow Cinema’s confidence in their work manifests in their willingness to milk their ideas for all the emotion they’re worth, writing compelling songs instead of trying too hard to impress their audience.
The title track and closing song “The Ram” perfectly encapsulate Palace’s memorability. The former’s slugfest riffage and simple two-minute run-time overflow with intensity, while the latter divulges farther into experimentalism than any other song with its curveball riffs and percussive schizophrenia divulging into moody jazz fusion. In this final display of musicianship, Sideshow Cinema entirely proves their worth in not only the DC hardcore scene but the metalcore movement as a whole. The only trouble becomes the irony of their name because at this point it’s clear they shouldn’t be a secondary attraction. Get Sideshow Cinema into the spotlight. They deserve it