Described as “Math fusion” and “Jazz core” on their bandcamp page, Needle Play’s Cruel Spring is a brilliant album that fuses elements of jazz and classical music, yet remains true to a metal ethos.
Cruel Spring is full of screaming vocals, fast and complex guitar shredding, and drumming that makes you wonder how many arms the drummer has. In addition to these defining metal characteristics, what I think sets the album apart from their metal contemporaries is the use of piano. This is evident on “April Cruels”, the intro track, an instrumental piano piece characterized by minor key tonality and dissonant chords and note patterns, which nicely sets the bleak tone that is present throughout the album. The following track, “Doomster Baby”, is a more chaotic metal song that also incorporates piano. I especially enjoyed the piano on this track because it added a certain emotional element not often found in hardcore metal songs. While the screamed vocals and distorted, dissonant guitar riffs take the listener to a dark place, the piano parts provide the emotional counter-part: much lighter and more beautiful place
That dual nature of “dark vs. light,” is present for much of the album as they shift between heavy, crunchy, dissonant riffs to cleaner and more melodic instrumentation. A great example of this is the transition between “Junkie Dunks” and “M, ILF.” Junkie Dunks, which is the most melodic track on the album, and probably the only song that could be described as “pretty,” has vocals that are sung- rather than screamed, clean guitar, as well as piano and violins. The mood quickly shifts back to high energy metal, with break-neck pace drumming, heavily distorted guitar, and laryngitis inducing screaming.
Another notable aspect of the album is the lyrical content, which covers a variety of topics including drug use, mass shootings, prison life, lost love, and many other darker aspects of human life. The mood of the lyrics range from sentimental with the line “You vanished and in your place a frigid anchorite rendering me untouched” from “Loss” to the saltier and more macabre line “Revenge is a dish best served drenched in cum” from “Drink B4 U Think.” This range in lyrical tone nicely accompanies the range in mood established by the music.
At its core, Cruel Spring is a metal album. However, it’s a metal album that takes a few risks. For example, you don’t often think of a metal band as typically making use of piano and violins. It’s characteristic that is a-typical of metal. Therefore, incorporating such characteristics is somewhat of a risk. I do think that Needle Play has managed to find the right balance of taking risks and playing it safe. In other words, they took enough risks to distinguish themselves from other contemporary metal bands. However, they played it safe enough that they can still reliably fit into the metal genre. And that is something I respect.