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Blind Equation — Death Awaits, Album Review

Blind Equation is not a newcomer to cybergrind. Releasing Too Weird To Live, To Strange To Die over a decade ago, the Chicago-based chipgrind act, fronted by songwriter and vocalist James McHenry, has consistently been one of the hardest working individuals in the scene, releasing a multitude of singles and EPs before dropping what was the pinnacle of his body of work, Life Is Pain, in 2021. While not necessarily an album about the pandemic, it captured feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and information overload that many of us felt during our time in self-isolation, while introducing a plethora of people to the genre of cybergrind.

In the following two years, James would continue his hard work, relentlessly touring and putting on performances with his touring band, famously taking part in what has been affectionately referred to as “Cybergrind Prom” with Thotcrime, Cocojoey, and Bejalvin. Shortly after, it was announced that Prosthetic Records had signed Blind Equation and would release their newest album, Death Awaits, on September 15th.

The announcement came with the debut of their new single and video for “never getting better,” which signified a slight departure from their usual unrelentingly brutal approach, with hyperpop vocals repeating the morose chorus “Never getting better / ‘cause I did this to myself.” As we grew closer to the release date, videos for “you betrayed the ones you love” and “killing me (ft. Rat Jesu),” doubled down on the melodic side of things while showing off the impressively refined production. It begged the question; would this represent the entirety of the album's sound?

Well, either good news or bad news depending on how attached you were to the hyperpop-influenced vocals; it is not.

Death Awaits opens, appropriately, with the title track “death awaits,” and like many of the songs on the album, it’s chip-tuned brutality with an insane BPM and piercing screams, and it continues with a kinetic sense of frustration and self-reflection throughout. Yes, there are melodic breaks that open the floodgates for sing-along sessions at live shows, especially in the singles mentioned above, but there are also tracks chock-full of grindcore-inspired bit-crushed adrenaline, such as the somber “speedrunning life” or the aggressively nihilistic “suffering in silence” featuring New Zealand cyberviolence-hip hop crossover act DEATHTRIPPA. Throughout the just under 30-minute runtime, however, is a sense of hope, glimmers of light in an otherwise darkened world, and as the album closes with the beautifully sweeping finale of “the last glimpse of me,” fans of Blind Equation will discover just how far this project had come from a silly bedroom grind project. It wears its influences of 8-bit sounds, Dylan Brady-esque alt-pop vibes and emotionally charged extreme music, produced to a polished sheen while still capturing that DIY aesthetic that enamours fans of cybergrind so much.

Every big cybergrind release is different, and people are drawn in different directions within the scene. However, when it comes to distilling the sound to its basic components and then utilizing them in ways previously unheard, while creating a familiar sense of comfort within those soundscapes, Blind Equation’s Death Awaits is the pinnacle of the genre.

Death Awaits is available on 9/15 through Prosthetic Records. Vinyl, CDs, Tapes, and digital copies can be pre-ordered here.