How Knocked Loose plan to bring hardcore to the masses

The breakdown masters on their “horrifying” new record, the power of seven-strings, and why it “always comes back to the sludgy stuff” in the end.

Knocked Loose performing live

Knocked Loose performing live

When you purchase through affiliate links on Guitar.com, you may contribute to our site through commissions. Learn more

One of the first sounds you will hear on Knocked Loose’s new record is a sharp intake of breath. The onslaught that follows immediately frames it as the moment before the fall, the split second before the truck hits you. As a whole, You Won’t Go Before You’re Supposed To is an exercise in upping the ante – the Kentucky metallic hardcore band rip through its 10 songs in well under half an hour, continually re-asserting their credentials as one of the most confrontational forces in heavy music. By the time it’s over, your wrecked body will be desperate to do it again.

“It’s so in-your-face that it’s horrifying at certain points,” guitarist Isaac Hale says with obvious pride. “We wanted a huge, layered wall of aggression and I think that’s what we ended up with.”

In truth, though, Knocked Loose might easily have been cowed by the game of one-upmanship they’re constantly playing with themselves. Since forming in Oldham County a little more than a decade ago their records have become gradually more intense and far-reaching, with injections of melody and involved lyrical concepts doing nothing to dull the bone-smashing breakdowns that made their name. Their 2021 EP A Tear in the Fabric of Life offered a deep-dive into loss and grief where these elements coalesced into something vital and terrifying, its levelling-up leaving You Won’t Go Before You’re Supposed To with as much external expectation as internal for perhaps the first time.

The band’s response is more: more hooks, more mosh parts, more chaos. When its second single Don’t Reach For Me was released, Hale posted on X (formerly Twitter) to ask his followers which of the song’s seven breakdowns was their favourite. What he didn’t mention was its massive, earworm refrain, the panic-inducing heaves of its bridge, or the molten core of disgust that underpins vocalist Bryan Garris’ seething work. It is a tour-de-force that has its roots in the gradual elevation of melody and atmosphere that began with songs such as …And Still I Wander South, an expansive highlight from 2019’s A Different Shade of Blue. All that and it’s still capable of spin-kicking your jaw off your face.

“The goal was to use a traditional pop/rock song formula through the lens of what we do,” Hale reflects. “The way I go about balancing that in a Knocked Loose sense is to make sure there’s a push-pull of heaviness versus melody or catchiness versus intensity. So, we’re gonna put a melodic chorus in this one, with a guitar lead and a bridge, but we’re also going to put those seven breakdowns in. It’s about figuring out ways to be creative and to expand what you’re doing while not sacrificing what the band is. That’s what that song was about and there are other songs on the record that introduce new concepts. But, at the end of the day, it’s still the heaviest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Isaac Hale of Knocked Loose does a jump onstage while performing live
Isaac Hale of Knocked Loose performing live

Know Your Limits

Knocked Loose – rounded out by guitarist Nicko Calderon, bassist Kevin Otten and drummer Kevin ‘PacSun’ Kaine – committed to a 10-song limit early on, but with the caveat that it wouldn’t limit their ambition. The core tenet behind the writing process became each song doing something another song on the record doesn’t. “On our previous records we were just writing to write,” Hale says. “And then we would sequence it afterwards.” This shift in approach is why Don’t Reach For Me is sandwiched between the wild Suffocate, home to a skin-peeling verse from Poppy and a memeable breakdown that leans reggaetón, and the 46 second scream into the void Moss Covers All.

One major thing that sticks out from a listener’s perspective is that utilising this mountain of ideas hasn’t resulted in anything approaching bloat. The first time the band heard the final master of You Won’t Go Before You’re Supposed To they almost wished there was more of it. But, thankfully, there isn’t. There is so much going on here, so many tangents, so much noise and aggression, that it quickly leads to fizzing information overload. It’s a lot. It’s awesome.

“I kind of think it adds to the mystique of the record,” Hale says. “There’s more gas in the tank at the end there, for sure. But when it comes down to it, all of our favourite albums, in hardcore or metal or whatever, are all stuff where it’s like, ‘Holy fuck, I just listened to that whole thing and it felt like five minutes.’”

Next, they had to make it sound world-ending. Having worked with him on last summer’s standalone singles Deep In The Willow and Everything Is Quiet Now, producer Drew ‘WZRD BLD’ Fulk came on board full-time. His recent work has taken in records by Kevin Gates and Disturbed, while Knocked Loose also took the decision to track guitar, bass and drums at Foo Fighters’ Studio 606 in Los Angeles, where high-end glitz was turned in on itself in search of gut-level filth.

Remaining sessions took place at Fulk’s studio and the LA base of engineer Zach Tuch, whose fingerprints were also all over two of last year’s best hardcore records in Zulu’s A New Tomorrow and Cerebral Circus by Initiate.

“In many ways Drew is a hardcore kid from South Carolina,” Hale observes. “He grew up booking Advent and he loves Turmoil and Hatebreed. He knows exactly where we’re coming from. So the idea popped in our heads: let’s try to get it sounding as big as a Sirius-XM rock record, but let’s do it all natural and make it ear-shatteringly intense. It’s about that push and pull. The mix is so great because, at so many points, it sounds wrong. It sounds over the top, it feels like it’s borderline clipping, the snare is crazy. It’s so heavy that you’re like, ‘Man, what is happening?’ That’s actually what I adore about it.”

Seven Heaven

Of late Hale – who also plays in the straight edge hardcore bands Inclination and Weapon X – has been turning to a gnarly seven string Ibanez Iceman to get the job done. “The one on the record is very similar to the one that they sell,” he says. “I have another one on the way that is a bit more modded. It’s a bit lighter. It has a different wood. It has an old DiMarzio Fusion Edge seven string pickup that they put in an RGD a couple years ago that I really loved. It’s got a lot of high end, a lot of bite to it. It’s kind of coil-tappy but not so much that it overtakes it. I have to put a lot of gain in it to cover it up but, at the same time, it adds that bite that I didn’t have before.”

While discussing the guitars on You Won’t Go Before You’re Supposed To, Hale hits on another contradiction inherent in this sort of music: these tracks might kick like a mule but bringing them to life is actually more of a delicate plate-spinning act than it is a demolition derby. “There’s like 12 guitar layers – there’s a fuck tonne going on,” Hale says, before shouting out the arsenal of pedals offered up by Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou’s God City company along with Maxon’s ST-9 Pro+ and the Way Huge Swollen Pickle. “One of the best fuzzes ever,” he adds.

“Knocked Loose, obviously, is a super heavy band so intense tones are very important,” he continues. “We run Quads [Neural DSP’s Quad Cortex] now, like a lot of people do, just because there are so many effects going on. On the record we used Bogner heads. I don’t know if they sell one of them to the public yet, or if there are just some boutique ones lying around, but it is basically an Uberschall on steroids. It has another crazy channel to it.

“I think Bogner makes the best guitar heads in the world when it comes to heavy music and I don’t think it’s close. It doesn’t even need a pedal or anything to go absolutely insane.”

The most important aspect of Knocked Loose’s tiered approach, though, has nothing to do with the tools of the trade. Hale and Calderon exist in an ecosystem. At one end you have the swamp-dredging rhythm section, who lean hard into Meshuggah-esque polyrhythms at one moment before throwing in some synapse-frying, mechanised D-beat the next, and at the other you have Garris, a furiously emotive hardcore singer who benefits enormously from using a higher register. Occupying these extremes essentially frees up space for the guitars to crash into areas that might normally be off limits, allowing for a full court press approach to absolutely flooring you.

“A lot of the riffs that we’re into on this one are choppier, syncopated, and there are parts where it gets away from that, where it’s super fast and tense and all over the place,” Hale says. “But it always comes back to the sludgy stuff, which is where the wall of sound guitars really add to it. There’s some clarity you sacrifice by having that many layers, but when it does sync up and when it does get super heavy, the payoff is just unbelievable.”

Knocked Loose’s ‘You Won’t Go Before You’re Supposed To’ is out on May 10 through Pure Noise.

Related Tags


The world’s leading authority and resource for all things guitar.

© 2024 Guitar.com is part of NME Networks.