One Step Closer – ‘This Place You Know’

By Ian Kenworthy

Making a record can feel like a race, and sometimes the path is strewn with hurdles. Obstacles get in the way, you lose your momentum, but if you keep going you cross the finish line, and don’t One Step Closer know it. With a handful of EPs under their belt the Pennsylvanian five-piece were gaining traction with their single ‘Lead To Gray’ and then 2020 happened. As a hardcore band, being locked out of the live area stalled their debut album’s release. ‘This Place You Know’ arrives a little later than intended, but the delay allowed it to be snapped up by Run For Cover Records. Getting here might have felt like a marathon, but with the race run, do they deserve a medal?

One Step Closer are a melodic hardcore band, leaving the starting blocks with an EP paying homage to its many styles. One minute it was an intense Sick Of It All style thrash, the next it was a little more Touché Amore. It contained a boatload of good ideas, but struggled to stamp a personality on them, coming across like a compilation by different artists. By the time 2019’s ‘From Me To You’ EP arrived they had taken that base and built on it with slicker songs making a more rounded package. You could hear the progression, and this helped the band find a wider audience. ‘This Place You Know’ shows further evolution – these songs have a hard edge, but also have an emotional core.

Despite ripping past in 28 minutes, the album has a recognisable structure and even finds time for a quiet piano interlude. You can broadly split it into three sections; the scrappy opening songs, the more interesting middle and the really solid final act. The short, sharp ‘I Feel So’ kicks things off, but then this approach is abandoned for a melodic follow-up, then changes style again for the more expansive ‘Leave Me Behind’.  All three work, but leave you a little dizzied.

Section two features broader and more spacious songs, even enough to allow a little respite on ‘Hereafter’ where effects-drenched arpeggios and pianos offer a change of pace. However, when the distorted guitars roar back on ‘Time Spent, Too Long’ they’re in an almost rocky style and it feels like a different band. Easily the weakest track, it doesn’t do anything wrong, but fails to leave a lasting impression. However, then the stampeding drums and slick riffs of ‘Autumn’ follow. It’s an awkward transition into the record’s three strongest tracks. Punchy, riffy and with an unmatched emotional intensity, this is where the band excels.

Emotions run high throughout the record, with a real anguished hook and a heartfelt presentation. At its best the music serves to reinforce this approach, with the aforementioned ‘Autumn’ opening like feisty old-school hardcore only to shift gears, spearing your ears with a meaty chorus riff while haunting harmonics draw from a wider palette. This style is shared with ‘Chrysanthemum’ and it’s not hard to see why both songs were selected as singles. There’s a lot to like and ideas flow from all directions, there’s just the nagging feeling they’re not all deployed in the most effective way.

Vocalist Ryan Savitski has a powerful hardcore bark, presented in a way that favours melancholy over aggression. It’s a consistent style that smoothly flows over the music, allowing the guitars to do the heavy lifting with just enough variety to be endearing and avoid monotony. The cleans interwoven on ‘Lead To Gray’ offer a different spin on the sound, but it isn’t one that sticks. When he lets emotion bleed into his voice on ‘Home For The Night’ the results are varied, and it turns out to be an inconsistent-feeling performance. His yells come from a deep, dark place but they’re bookended by a honking gasp that feels really odd.

Guitarists Grady Allen and Ross Thompson list a series of obscure hardcore acts as key influences and this leads to a varied and exciting approach. It’s superb to hear them tearing through ‘Leave Me Behind’ and ‘Pringle Street’ especially as both change styles part way through. Both interweave enough ideas so that the album neatly sidesteps sounding generic, however as a whole the band still struggles to maintain a strong sense of self, and this lands them in a strange valley between the two extremes. It’s not because they’re trying varied things, it’s that each song’s influences differ and overpower the core sound. It doesn’t stop the album feeling cohesive, but lessens its impact.

The record is about familiarity and sense of place, most readily addressed on ‘Home For The Night’ and ‘Time Spent, Too Long’ but this is a theme running throughout. The music provides plenty of space to explore the idea, especially given Allen and Thompson’s multifaceted approach. It’s most noticeable on the slower sections of ‘Pringle Street’ where the ringing notes conjure a feeling of distance. By the record’s end you feel to have been on a journey, and this is one of its many strengths.

‘This Place You Know’ is a solid debut album. It lays out what the band is capable of and succeeds as a powerful and varied hardcore album. Sure, struggles to feel like more than the sum of its parts, but there’s an honesty and urgency to it that you just can’t ignore. Overall, it deserves a bronze medal; it’s more than an also-ran, but isn’t leading the race. Underpinned by a broad series of ideas, it’s a transient and thoughtful record. It’s definitely a move in the right direction; you might even say they’re One Step Closer.

IAN KENWORTHY

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