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Deep Cuts #19: Hatebreed – 'The Rise of Brutality'
Or, the Existential Thisness Presentism of Jamey Jasta.
Album: The Rise of Brutality
Release: October 28th, 2003
Label: Universal Music Group
This one will differ slightly from my usual Deep Cuts retrospective format, but I promise it has the goods. So, aahhh, bear with me, okay? Cool? Cool.
Despite what you may assume based purely on their name, metalcore progenitors Hatebreed aren’t solely focused on feelings of loathing, disgust, and pessimistic sentiments of intense negativity. And sure, looking at examples of the group’s more popular tracks (“Looking Down the Barrel of Today” and “Destroy Everything,” to name just a few) might lead one to think the lyrical content skews heavily towards gestures of violence and outward hostility. Which, I will admit, it often does (to a point).
Yet, as frontman Jamey Jasta told the Daily Nebraskan in 2002, the Connecticut outfit are much more than just angry meathead dudes being angry for anger’s sake:
“Some people only hear the heavy… But even though the music is heavy, it’s tangible, people can relate to it."
For me, this tangibility comes in many forms: inspiration, motivation, catharsis—all feelings that have, I would argue, resolutely positive connotations. What I want to do here is interrogate this positivity and get down to the philosophical core at the heart of one of my favourite records: 2003’s The Rise of Brutality.
Looking at Hatebreed’s storied twenty-five career, it’s easy to see consistent threads running through the band’s album titles and lyrical themes:
Satisfaction Is the Death of Desire (1997) > “complacency hinders aspiration”
Perseverance (2002) > “striving for success in the face of adversity”
Supremacy (2006) > “ascendancy, dominion, authority”
The Divinity of Purpose (2013) > “seeking determination in belonging”
The Concrete Confessional (2016) > “accepting the shame of hard living”
“Jamey Jasta has made a career out of turning shouted screeds into adrenaline-fuelled motivational seminars, spitting the truth in the form of inspiring affirmations on the value of personal growth and overcoming adversity.
At this point, the Hatebreed frontman, podcaster, and former Headbangers Ball host is essentially the hardcore Tony Robbins. So, in this way, listening to a new Hatebreed record in 2020 is as much an exercise in therapeutic self-determination as it is exhilarating and blood-pumping.”
Turning to The Rise of Brutality, there are two tracks in particular that I feel exemplify this idea of “therapeutic self-determination” as delivered through “exhilarating and blood-pumping” sonic sermons.
The album’s lead single, “This Is Now,” has temporal questions as its primary focus. Over Sean Martin’s crushing lead riff and Matt Byrne’s pounding percussion, Jasta grips the mic and dips into the nature of time itself:
“Another memory and I'm asking myself/
How can I let the past be the past?
Once and for all, take a hold of the future/
And not let it control what I aspire to have.”
Here, Jasta gestures to the contemporary debate that continues to rage between two temporal ontologies: presentism and eternalism.
A presentist position states that everything exists at a specific point or slice of time, whereas the eternalist position is that things exist at other times. Put simply, for the presentist, only the present moment is “real”; for the eternalist, all times are “equally real” and exist—past, present, and future through infinity.
By analysing the frequency of words in Jasta’s lyrics across the album, we can see how emphasis is placed on the specific quality of existence. For instance, words like “this,” “is,” and “now” occur 37, 47, and 20 times, respectively, more so than scant occurrences of words like “future” (2) and “past” (2).
For Jasta, his own stance on this debate, his core “belief,” becomes clearer as the track moves into a bouncy, uplifting chorus punctuated by furious chugging and layered gang vocals:
“‘Cause this is now.
How can I change tomorrow, if I can’t change today?
This is now.
If I control myself, I control my destiny.”
As the chorus acknowledges, the ability to guide and shape one’s life requires control and the possibility of change. In this view, the evocation of “now,” of the primacy and importance of the present moment, becomes the thematic core of the song and, I would argue, of The Rise of Brutality as a whole.
This is all good, but what does it tell us about the record’s philosophy? Well, I want to argue that Jasta takes on a unique formulation of “thisness presentism” on The Rise of Brutality.
The main hurdle to overcome with adherence to eternalism is its inconsistency with our phenomenological intuitions as they relate to the passage and experience of time.
As human beings, we perceive things changing as a causal flow of events, where our experienced present continually advances into the future. We also have access to events experienced in the past that we do not have for the future, suggesting that reality (as experienced) conforms to a fixed past and an unfixed, open future.
As Natalja Deng writes in her review of David Ingram’s Thisness Presentism: An Essay on Time, Truth, and Ontology (2019):
“On thisness presentism, while there (presently) are all the thisnesses of wholly past entities, as well as those of present entities, there are no thisnesses of wholly future entities.
Thus, this presentist view seems well positioned to reap some of the benefits of the growing block view (on which past and present exist but the future does not). And indeed, one suggested benefit is that the view allows one to hold that the future, unlike the past, is open or unsettled.”
By embracing thisness presentism, Jasta and Hatebreed are able to reap the benefits of a fixed past, using the trials and tribulations of human experience as thematic fodder for lyrical motivations about changing one’s circumstances, controlling your destiny, and doing a “Carpe diem” (“seize the day”).
As independent scholar Johnny Harboe writes:
“The narrator is placed in the now, not only reflecting on the past and preparing for the future, but he is determined to change the future, to take hold of his life and change his life.”
We can see this most clearly in the second track of note, the album’s second single, “Live for This.”
Over another stellar pump-up riff from Martin, accented by Byrne’s pummeling double-kick fusillade, a constant refrain rings out: “Live for this, Live, Live!”
The repetition here is crucial, as it denotes how the present must be experienced, over and over again, to be truly lived within its own temporal confines. Moving into the first verse, Jasta lets us know why this is important:
“Through the best and the worst, the struggle and sacrifice/
For the true who’ve remained and the new blood.
Motivation, undying allegiance/
Striving through the hardships and affliction.”
Without a conception of the past, without an acknowledgement of its thisness, its continuing impact and relevance to decisions and choices made in the present, these lyrics would be effectively drained of their motivational power. As Jasta utters in the track’s rousing chorus:
“If you don't live for something, you'll die for nothing.”
In the context of “Live for This,” then, the this is the now, the present and the real, and only through reflection and action can we ever hope to wrestle with the need and desire for control and change.
“What we have are not possessions we own/
It's not weighed by greed or personal gain.
This is real, a desire for freedom.
A place apart from a world in abandon.”
We can read this desire for freedom as a reflection of the existential anxiety sitting at the heart of works by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855).
As Francesco Orilia notes for Manuscrito in “On the Existential side of the Eternalism-Presentism Dispute”:
“[Kierkegaard] points out, in The Concept of Anxiety, that the present is the vantage point wherefrom an array of genuine future possibilities are displayed for us to choose.
This freedom can be exciting, but the choices before us can be of momentous importance, up to the point of being characterizable as choosing ourselves, as decisions regarding what we want to be; in Kierkegaard’s theological language, they can be a matter of settling for eternity on either salvation or damnation.
Thus, freedom means also the angst arising from the burden of feeling responsible for one’s actions.”
We can see a lot of Kierkegaard’s philosophy reflected in Hatebreed’s back catalogue; in particular, their later albums, which emphasise theological themes as a way to think through the burdens and obligations placed upon human subjects in the phenomenal world.
However, all of this philosophizing shouldn’t be taken as a way to diffuse or detract from The Rise of Brutality’s more visceral and hard-hitting moments.
Tracks like “Doomsayer” and “Beholder of Justice” still feature some of Jasta & Co.’s most iconic breakdowns and knuckle-dragging pit calls, leaning emphatically into the “exhilarating and blood-pumping” side of things rather than their strictly “therapeutic self-determination” aspects. And in my mind, this is what makes Hatebreed so compelling within the world of metal and hardcore: their dogged ability to blend cathartic forms of violence and aggression with an overall insightful philosophical outlook.
After all, as I said in my New Noise review:
“The world continues to shit itself almost daily, and channelling some of our surplus rage and anger might just be a healthy form of output. After all, we’re not talking about Safebreed, or Respectbreed, or even Pull-Yourself-Up-By-Your-Bootstraps-breed. This is Hatebreed.”
As Jasta said, some people may only hear the heavy, and that’s on them.
You can find all of the albums in this series in the TPD // Deep Cuts playlist.