Taking its name from a famous Walt Whitman quote, Before a Million Universes is a record built around a deft dichotomy of Fugazi-esque intricacy and unrelenting hardcore aggression. A follow-up to 2014’s 18 Hours of Static, it not only picks up where that album left off, but expands on its already far-from-rudimentary foundations.
As a result, its a record far more three-dimensional than its predecessor, channelling at least some of the aggression in to introspective pools of rancorous discontent. Taking the eponymous Whitman quote in full, this should come as little surprise: "Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes” it reads, and whilst cool and composed aren't necessarily words one would associate with Big Ups, in comparison to their debut, Before a Million Universes is exactly that.
As such, some would argue that in forgoing the intensity in favour of introspection, Big Ups have lost the spark which ignited their debut, and on face value they might even be right. "Negative" for instance, and its meandering counterpart "Negative (Intro)" feel all too familiar, and its only on repeat listens one realises the skeletal post-rock intro, followed up by a barrage of acerbic noise, is a trope used earlier in the record. Indeed not just earlier, but in the very track they proceed. Of course, a blind eye can be turned to such indiscretions, especially since the particular vein of punk the band so ardently mine has been threatening to run dry for some time now.
For those of us who don't subscribe to such cliches as familiarity breeds contempt, there's a huge amount to love about the record. For every obvious point of reference present (Fugazi, Melvins), there's one that will surprise you (Brand New, Half Japanese) resulting in a dichotomy of frenzied verbal assaults and withdrawn, even refined, spoken word. Indeed whilst the ictus is ever on an exploration of dynamics, it still doesn't lessen the impact of what's arguably the record's centrepiece.
Unveiled ahead of the record's release, "National Parks" embodies the understated and rhythmic push-and-pull of Fugazi throughout its first two-thirds, before exploding in to a La Dispute-esque cathartic conclusion; an insidious corrosion reducing the vocal to an angsty and acerbic fuzz.
Though it may have lost some of the urgency of their debut, Before a Million Universes has allowed the band to develop a level of genuine introspection rarely seen in the hardcore of today. As a result of this, it feels acknowledging to its influences, but not indebted. And though there's undoubtedly a certain level of familiarity at play too, particularly if you're a grizzled veteran of hardcore's last 20 years, it also feels as if both Big Up's eyes are firmly on the future, even if one foot is still in the past.