Great Reward is the third release from New Zealand hardcore band Parents, and the album’s title is pretty much an on-point summation of the contents therein. Auckland-based Parents create explosive and unhinged punk rock, and while their music is always fierce, it’s often unconventional too. That means Great Reward features tracks that are different and more distinctive than the usual hardocre fare. They’re songs that are as adroit as they are aggressive, and as intricate as they are intense.
No question, Great Reward is a mightily impressive album. But this isn’t the first time Parents have impressed. The band have been part of New Zealand’s hardcore community since 2009, although their fan base isn’t restricted to hardcore fanatics. Like many of their hard-as-nails punk rock peers, Parents’ create music that features elements of post-hardcore, powerviolence, grindcore, and screamo. And the band has clear crossover appeal for aficionados of many types of incendiary noise.
Parents released their self-produced debut in 2013. The band blitzed through 10 raging tracks on that self-titled album, counterpointing brief moments of calm with grinding walls of noise. Parents’ first album featured all the raw energy you’d hope to hear on debut, and the band’s follow up, 2014’s Low Life 7″, was even better.
Parents stepped on the gas and ramped up the chaos on Low Life. The 8-track 7″ featured ultra-harsh and high-speed hardcore indebted to pioneering screamo bands such as Pg.99 or Orchid. But Low Life also displayed the kinds of violent audio dynamics employed by some of the most hostile bands that bridge the punk/metal divide. (See bands like Full of Hell, Nails, Hessian, etc. Or New Zealand crossover crews like Graves (RIP) or Bridge Burner.)
Low Life wasn’t just faster and more aggressive than Parents’ debut; the release also highlighted a band willing to step outside genre. Parents turned sonic mayhem into art on Low Life by experimenting with their blend of dissonance, density, and melody. And Great Reward also finds Parents experimenting with their sound once again.
On Great Reward, Parents’ highly charged hardcore is as frenzied as ever. And the band still deliver short, sharp, and cathartic songs. But Great Reward also features plenty of unorthodox swerves within songs, and the album displays new levels of complexity and musicianship.
Case in point, “Dream On”, which opens the album with a dark and crushing dirge when a turbo-speed kick-off might well have been expected. It’s a great opening as well, because “Dream On” is all grinding tension, which means the impact of follow-up “Hope Less” feels that much more powerful when it attacks with 50 seconds of supersonic insanity.
“No More” and “Don’t Look Back” bring more breakneck distorted riffs and mangling music. And “The Fiend” deals in blistering shock and awe(some) noise too. However, for all Great Reward’s incessant fury––and for all of Parents’ upping of the intensity with every subsequent song––there are plenty of novel twists and turns to keep songs from becoming one-dimensional bombardments.
Note the way the frantic riffing from Parents’ guitarist Jono mixes with the incensed vocals of frontman Simon on “Low” as the song lurches in every direction. Or listen as drummer Will and bassist Brent work their manic magic on the clanging and crashing “Pressure”, pushing the track into the realms of rapid-fire noise-rock.
More unexpected is the twanging prairie guitar that opens the album’s final track, “Wounded”. That six-string stroll in the setting sun paints a serene scene at the start of the song, before things get riotous again around the minute-and-a-half mark, when Parents let loose with an unrestrained musical onslaught to close the album on a staggering note.
Staggering is probably the best word to describe Great Reward as well. It is a powerful record, seeing the band maximising their fiercest sonic attributes while still exploring creative possibilities to really hone the knife’s edge. It all sounds fantastic too. Great Reward was self-produced by Parents, tracked by Tim Shann (Bridge Burner, Graves), and mixed and mastered in San Francisco by Jack Shirley (Deafheaven). And the experience of all involved has clearly been put to good use, because the album’s whirlwind tracks sound huge and feel concussive.
I’d be hard pressed to find any notable flaws on Great Reward. Obviously, if brain-battering tracks delivered at a meteoric pace don’t already appeal, then the album’s definitely not for you. Parents aren’t interested in gently introducing anyone to their music with this album. It’s a take-no-prisoners approach from start to finish. But given that’s what the band does best, and that’s exactly what their fans desire, I can’t see any shortcomings there.
Ultimately, Great Reward is yet another remarkable album from a heavyweight NZ band that merits a far wider international audience. In truth, albums like Great Reward aren’t just a pleasure to write about, they also thoroughly deserve to be crowed about. So if you’re seeking preeminent hardcore that’s twisted at the roots and wholly volatile, I’d wholeheartedly recommend you grab a copy of Great Reward, forthwith.