In hardcore, the pit can be performative– clapping replaced by stage dives, cheers replaced by back-kicks or circle pitting. But you can always tell the difference between going through the motions and truly visceral emotion, especially while watching a band of Jesus Piece’s pedigree. In a recent NYC appearance, the quintet turned a typically indie live room into a warzone complete with humans as step stools, railings and wall-mounted tables as diving boards, and missiles created from anything not nailed down, including the disco ball. “The number one thing is the live performance,” says drummer Luis Aponte regarding JP’s venomous live reputation. “You can be in the studio and make that record sound insane but if you’re not giving that same energy, that same feeling when you play live, it just doesn’t matter.”
It all comes from a near shamanistic quality in the band, where frontman Aaron Heard uses a manic, livewire vocal delivery ala Busta Rhymes to the orchestrate the crowd’s kinetic energy— pushing further toward utter mayhem and culminating in a show that stands tall among their genre peers and live music writ large. Jesus Piece is a live phenomenon, only possibly held back by a heretofore limited recorded output. Their time has come with So Unknown, the new and second Jesus Piece LP, the follow-up to their white-hot Only Self.
So Unknown is their Century Media debut and broadcasts what fans already knew– Jesus Piece is a fully articulated armored vehicle of metallic-hardcore obliteration. Invoking all of the swinging groove of Chaos A.D. / Roots-era Sepultura, the weapons-grade precision of Godflesh and the terror-inducing start-stop rhythms of Meantime-era Helmet, fans have finally ascended to the apex of metal and hardcore– a mix of complex instrumentation that is unafraid to make room for a simple groove. JP has created an effort that never fails to impress, gets to the point and never gets in its own way. And much like their live show, their patented mid-tempo sound is only a jumping off point to chaos- ably utilizing half-speed breakdowns, left-turns into riffage at breakneck speed and moody ambient atmosphere effectively.
So Unknown is a cluster bomb of ten hate anthems bursting at the seams with memorable riffs and pulsing with fresh ideas. The record wastes no time from the starting gun, kicking off with a roar from Heard. From there, album highlights like “Gates of Horn” infuse in industrial ambiance juxtaposed against start-stop rhythms that recall classic Ministry, breathing and blasting before merging towards a terrifying, swinging groove. “Tunnel Vision” begins with an atonal riff straight out of the black metal playbook before settling into a piledriving double-kick section and then into a half-speed wrecking ball. “Silver Lining” begins almost deceptively clean with an eerie Coil-esque atmosphere into a minor scale riff, followed by another mid-tempo steamroller before opening back up into relative calm. “FTBS” is all groove though, a neck-snapping crowd killer that slithers and bangs with notes of Meshuggah until it slows towards a crawl for its final death march.
Co-produced and mixed by Randy LeBouef (Every Time I Die, Orthodox) and clocking in at a lean and mean 28 minutes, So Unknown documents the lives of the bands’ five members as they step into life’s abyss and react to the changes. “The making of the record was nothing short of all-consuming. It was an intense and challenging process,” recalls Aponte. “The record reflects a lot of confusion, but also, evolution. There was a lot of uncertainty and emotion during the pandemic– we all changed and grew so much. So if there is a single thought or concept to the record, it’s constant metamorphosis. That’s also how we operated as a band on this LP– spending a lot of time songwriting and fleshing things out as a unit, and then upping our game from there. It’s definitely a reflection of us as more mature, playing the best we’ve ever played and feeling like a real band for the first time.”
Jesus Piece is composed of vocalist Aaron Heard, guitarists David Updike and John Distefano, and drummer Luis Aponte. Formed in Philadelphia in 2015, the band released a trio of EPs (the S/T EP, 3 Song Tape and the Malice at the Palace split) before delivering their massive 2018 debut LP for Southern Lord Records, Only Self. The release stood head and shoulders over much of the hardcore and metal crowd, with a diversity that can be credited to the unique approach and chemistry between the members. Hell, even their name bypasses typical hardcore naming conventions and instead originates from a piece of jewelry loved by the hip hop crowd. “It’s been the same five guys from the start,” says drummer Luis Aponte. “That’s extremely rare for any band and it says a lot about us as we’ve been able to progress together. We all have our own lives, our own backgrounds and our own individual style. I think that informs the music that we’ve made from the beginning to now.”
Even with a triumphant new LP in pocket, Aponte is quick to come back to Jesus Piece’s core competency when it comes to the release, and how they work well with one another. “A big goal on ‘So Unknown’ outside of songwriting and technical goals was to capture the same energy on record that we have live- for people to get that sense of urgency and danger.” explains Aponte. “I think that LeBeouf captured that with everything on the record, from Aaron’s vocals to the dynamics and the overall tone. This is as close to a Jesus Piece experience as you’re going to get without standing in front of us.”