Japan’s titans of beatdown, Sand, are quickly becoming a household name. With appearances at US festivals Black & Blue, East Coast Tsunami, and This Is Hardcore the boys from Osaka are quickly proving themselves to be international sensations. Making their debut on the Pennsylvania based label, Fast Break! Records, Sand has returned with their most diverse and brutal outing to date in the form of Death To Sheeple.

2013’s Spit On Authority was the game changer for the band and their signing to Beatdown Hardware allowed them to achieve real international attention. It was a massive sounding record that catapulted them into mosh god status. Their lyrics were violent, their shows were warzones…and this wasn’t contained to just Japan. What S.O.A had going for it was a consistent delivery of pure aggressive chug filled mosh anthems. It was focused in its delivery and was just meant to be vicious. It was eerily reminiscent of the time when North Jersey ruled the roost and bands like Shattered Realm, Clubber Lang, and Redline were instigating riots with their music.

I’ve always found it fascinating seeing what Japan, or any other country for that matter, identifies as hardcore. While we here in the states seem to think we have a firm grasp on what hardcore and all of the correct corresponding sub-genres are, Japan lumps a lot more together. They are equally obsessed with deathcore bands like The Acacia Strain and Emmure as they are more traditional “core” bands like Terror and Madball. To them it’s all relatively the same scene and the love it all equally. In Death To Sheeple, Sand seems to get that point across very well as they branch out in a million directions with borrowed influences on this record. In the song Off The Table, you’ll hear a riff that sounds oddly similar to Set It Off but for most of the track Straw Man, they deliver something that sounds like it was directly plucked from one of the new Cannibal Corpse records just with hardcore drumming behind it. There are punkier riffs scattered throughout like most of the track featuring Japanese Rapper Anarchy called Treatment but still maintain a plethora of bass dropped slow chug breakdowns. There is also a dual vocal delivery that bends genres as well with frontman Makato barking at a more natural sound and guitarist Ishi brings to the table a very high pitched, black metal type approach. The severe differences in styles complement each other very well and bring something new to this type of heavy hardcore.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that Sand, specifically Makato, are much immersed into the hip-hop culture. I’ve seen Makato show up on hip hop show fliers that he posts on his Instagram and they typically include a guest appearance by Japanese rapper Anarchy on all their records. For Death To Sheeple they opted to let that obsession bleed over into the music as well and there are quite a few hip-hop instrumental tracks that break up the main songs. There is definitely a throwback to the late 80’s/early 90’s New York style that has a very natural drum & bass focus with a little bit of piano play. It reminds me of some of the instrumental interludes that the Beastie Boys used on their earlier records. My only complaint about these tracks is that they are a bit long. Since they are repetitive in nature, they could have either shortened them to half their current length or they could have added some lyrics to them. I think allowing Makato, and even Anarchy, bust some rhymes over top of these tracks would have added some serious diversity to this record. It wouldn’t have been too far off from what Candiria did on their records, minus all the jazz noodling.

Lastly, I want to give a shout out to the production on this record, well any Sand record for that matter. I hate using the word crisp to describe a records sound but that’s all I can come up with for this one. Most hardcore bands are forking over the money to get themselves recorded/mixed/mastered by legit engineers. Gone are the days of going to the cheap $10 an hour recording studio down the street that makes your album sound like it was recorded in a toilet. Sand takes it to a whole new level. This sounds about as professional as it gets. It’s massive sounding and clean. No individual instrument drowns out another. More bands should aspire to take this much pride in the sound of their record.

For me, this type of hardcore is a thing of the past. It’s been quite a few years when I all I listened to were bands like Irate, Hatebreed, Shattered Realm, and Redline but a band like Sand has enough diversity in their attack, with all their subtle influences sneaking in, that I can’t help but gravitate towards them. The mosh enthusiasts are sure to be pleased but I feel that it expands far beyond that demographic and provides a solid listening experience for fans of heavy music in general. If not for anything, this is definitely a great look into another culture’s take on a signature US style from years past.