Paradoxical to their name, Joy make music about immense suffering. The Raleigh, North Carolina quartet play a monstrous hybrid of blackened hardcore, chaotic metalcore, and tried-and-true death metal that’s accented with fits of powerviolence and nu-metal grooves. Across 10 songs in 23 minutes, the band's debut full-length No Light Below’s ruthless blend of heavy flavors and tormented lyrics reel you into the band’s misanthropic worldview.
“Nobody else relates to me / Contorted thoughts in my head / Imbalanced chemicals with no end,” vocalist Andrew Langhans bellows during the violent, swinging riff of “Calloused.” “I’m no different no matter how hard I try / I despise them, so I despise me too,” he shrieks with an audibly red-faced delivery in the grinding tail-end of “Despised.”
No Light Below, was written while Langhans was struggling with severe depression, and losing his faith in humanity. “I’ve always been negative, just not a happy person,” the 26-year-old says while huddled around an empty bar with his bandmates—22-year-old bassist Allen Tucker, 24-year-old guitarist Halston Castro, and 22-year-old drummer Kody Masteller. We’re sitting in a dimly lit, closed-off hallway in the castle-like Mr. Smalls Theatre, chatting before their set on a bitter Pittsburgh night in mid-January.
“Human nature’s very, I think at its core, very self-centered. Look out for myself, protect myself,” Langhans says of his lyrical content. “[I also write about] myself, seeing my flaws and just kind of being mad at myself that I’m not a better person.”
It’s a form of unvarnished bleakness that pulls from both the extreme morbidity of death metal and the straightforward conversationalism of hardcore, with a dash of surreal cynicism that’s spiritually similar to Martin Scorsese’s cult-classic film Taxi Driver (from which Joy actually sample audio on the record’s penultimate track, “Along the Edge"). But, unlike the deranged antihero Robert De Niro plays, Langhans is attempting to improve morale through the release of his pent-up aggression, to not further encourage social ostracization.
“I try to write things that I hope other people can also relate to, and hope that they realize that they’re not alone or crazy for having these thoughts,” he says. “I try to show that there are other people who think the same way that they do, and that it’s okay to admit it and do what I’m trying to do now. Get help for being depressed.”
The band landed on the name Joy because it was short and concise—much like their songs, which average at or below the two-minute mark. Before this venture, each member was involved in various metalcore bands around Raleigh, but gradually became more interested in writing faster, thrashier material and decided to leave their respective projects. Joy dropped its first seven-inch in 2015, and things took off faster than they'd expected. Following that release, the band quickly signed to Richmond, VA label Blood & Ink Records to release their 2016 EP, Of Nothing.
When Joy began touring throughout the East Coast and Midwest, they were pleasantly surprised by the turnout in cities like Tennessee, Philly, and, in particular, Chicago. ‘That was our first time and I would’ve thought it was our third or fourth time playing there,” Tucker says.
Hype was building online, and they finished recording No Light Below at the end of 2017 with the intention of having it out via Blood & Ink in the fall of 2018. However, the band says that a bizarre roadblock emerged when Blood & Ink owner Daniel White suddenly stopped responding to their calls, emails, and texts. “It just seemed like a 180 overnight,” Tucker says.
According to Joy, communication was normal until shortly after they got out of the studio in early 2018, when it came time for Blood & Ink to pay the engineer. After a few months of being “ghosted,” they finally got a response, and the person they recorded with—a good friend of the band who was empathetic to the situation—was paid.
“It seemed like things were cool, that this thing was gonna get out,” Tucker explains. “Then the same thing happened at about April-ish. And then from about April all the way to September, multiple texts, calls, and emails a month. Nothing answered, ever.”
At that point, the band was so baffled that they were wondering if they’d done something wrong along the way. They say they had absolutely no indication of what could've happened, so they went ahead and released the first two singles from No Light Below in mid-September, one of which was premiered through Decibel.
“We noticed that it wasn’t being shared by the label or promoted in any way,” Castro says. “So I texted him about it to see if he would post it and he was, like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m super excited about the record. If you have any questions let me know, I’ll post it.’ This was the first Joy had heard from their label in five months. More than anything, the band just wanted people to hear the music. So after two more months of being left in the dark, they said “fuck it.”
“I remember the exact second,” Tucker says. “We were seeing Candy play in Raleigh and I think it was, like, while they were setting up we were just texting back and forth across the room and I was like, ‘hey, I just typed out this big note so we can tell people what’s going on. Should we just do it? I already have everything ready for Spotify and Apple Music.’ And we were like, ‘yeah, we’re doin’ it’. We thought this is probably the best thing we can do where we can still be a band, and be active where people can hear our music and play shows.”
White declined to speak on the record for this story. The band explicitly say that they don’t hold any ill will toward him and Blood & Ink; they just want to move past it all and return to normalcy, which they started to do earlier this month by hopping on a last-minute weekend tour up the East Coast with Funeral Chic and WVRM.
Although they’ve previously toured with metallic hardcore bands like Orthodox and Purgatory, Joy’s sound prowls through the sewers between genres in a similar way to crusty metal/punk mutts Funeral Chic and deathgrind via hardcore bruisers WVRM. In Raleigh, Tucker says that Joy brings out both punks and hardcore kids, which are, traditionally, two separate communities in the region. “The punks probably think the hardcore kids are all idiots, and to be fair they probably are,” he says with a chuckle.
“We kind of started playing more metal stuff in a truly hardcore scene,” Masteller says. “And I think that was a good thing to have. A hardcore base going into metal, so the shows were always a little bit crazier.”
There are a few songs on No Light Below that feature a dense, metallic thwacking sound, which the band clarifies is a keg being hit with a bat. They used it on some of their older material, too, but stopped hauling it out on-stage once they became known as “the band with the keg.” "People got a little mad I think sometimes when bat shrapnel would fly at them,” Tucker says. “We had to tone it down a little bit.”
The band don’t need it to sell a wild time, though. Their live set is a 20-minute burst of their foreboding metallic music, presented with all the fury of a hardcore show. Langhans has a ferocious voice with three distinct ranges; a roaring low, a snarling mid-range, and a shrieking high. He flings himself across the stage, falling abruptly to his knees and shaking his fists toward the sky during the most emotional climaxes. It doesn’t feel like a gimmick, though. He tells me before the set that the performances are his outlet. That’s a common trope among metal vocalists, but, after seeing him carry it out, I'll tell you that there's not a hint of bullshit to be found in his dramatic delivery.
Mashing genres that were once kept sacredly separate has been one of the defining feature of heavy music in the 2010s, and Joy’s mutant output of hardcore and metal is certainly a prime example. Castro says that he keeps a specific quote by Converge vocalist Jacob Bannon in mind when he writes, one that feels all the more fitting after seeing them thrash it out onstage: "We’re too punk for the hardcore kids. We’re too hardcore for the metal kids. We’re too weird for the punk kids."
One gets the distinct impression that Joy wouldn't have it any other way.
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This article originally appeared on Noisey US.