Things move fast in hardcore. Inclination formed just five years ago in 2017, and in the time since, the Louisville five-piece have built up a palpable sense of momentum. 

“We weren’t really expecting anything crazy,” explains Inclination guitarist Isaac Hale. “But when we played our first show in 2018, it went really well and it seemed like there was a buzz,” 

This is a modest self-assessment. Inclination’s debut EP, the succinctly-titled Midwest Straight Edge, has been pressed nine times and counting since it was released in 2017, the band has racked up millions of Spotify plays, and they’ve played major festivals including This Is Hardcore, Sound and Fury, and their hometown’s LDB Fest. In short: There’s a ton of excitement surrounding this band.

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Hale remains humble. “Hardcore’s attention span isn’t very long. Bands are sometimes only around for a year or two before they pass in relevancy. But [now that] we’re putting out what I feel is our best body of work, we’re feeling good about that.” 

He’s referring to Unaltered Perspective, Inclination’s debut full-length that was released in October. While their aforementioned releases were rousing slabs of modern metallic hardcore, their debut raises the bar even higher. The razor-sharp riffs, breakneck rhythms, and righteous lyrical fury of these eleven tracks are scorchingly intense, almost overwhelmingly so.

“When we put out our first seven-inch, it turned out to be a pretty uplifting-sounding record,” Hale says. “For this one, I wanted to put some darkness back into it, whilst also making it the biggest Inclination record in terms of scope.”

Balancing out this ferocious musicianship, however, is Unaltered Perspective’s often disarmingly compassionate lyrics. Inclination proudly identify as a straight-edge band, utilizing lyrics that detail the struggles of human existence and how the straight-edge lifestyle can function as an escape from its pains.

“I spend a lot of time thinking about this,” laughs Inclination’s vocalist and lyricist Tyler Short. “It’s a philosophy,” he explains, regarding his interpretation of straight edge. “It infects your mind in so many ways and colors your lens on the world. I love that there’s a whole spectrum — it lends itself so well to having an empathetic view of the world.”

Issac’s experience of straight edge shares these life-changing qualities. At just 25-years-old, he’s the youngest member of Inclination, but has already achieved considerable musical success with both Inclination and as a member of world-beating hardcore act Knocked Loose.

“A lot of my older friends were in college and I went to their parties, but I was so disinterested in all that,” he says. “I was just focused on music. Then when I found straight edge, there was this culture that noticed that disinterest and gave you a sense of belonging.”

Short's lyrics on Unaltered Perspective place this sense of belonging at its moral center. “Feeling solidarity is one of my favorite feelings in existence,” he says. “Feeling camaraderie — I fiend for that shit.” 

This is best captured on “Connections,” which Short describes as one of his favorite Inclination songs. “There’s the line on 'Connections' about feeling like you have ‘no one to count on,’ followed by the line, ‘I promise you that’s not the truth’,” he explains. “We figured out during recording that if Issac did that second line, then it’s as though he’s literally talking to me, rather than just me saying it to the listener.” 

inclination live

[Photo by Gabe Becerra]

These pathos-laden lyrics make Unaltered Perspective a uniquely hard-hitting listen. The album is rife with searing insight, tackling both the personal and the political. A key example of the latter is Short's adroit weaving of commentary on the United States’s opioid epidemic into this dense moral fabric.

“The first few songs in particular are about how the crisis hit Kentucky and West Virginia,” Short says. “In Louisville, the opioid use is so heavy there was a road known as the Opana Highway. When they stopped making Opana, the price of it went from $5 to $60 and everyone started doing heroin. People were overdosing left, right, and center … Our governor at the time was this piece of shit called Matt Bevin, who went on TV and just offered ‘thoughts and prayers.’ So that song ["Thoughts & Prayers"] was in my head for a long time.”

What makes Unaltered Perspective’s early tracks so powerful is their willingness to go straight for the jugular of the opioid crisis, calling out the degregulated pharmaceutical industry and the politicians who are allowing it to cause such damage to communities and individuals. Short elaborates, “It’s the same as the oil industry: They knew what burning carbon was doing to the atmosphere, but they said, ‘Fuck it, a few more dollars.’ That’s what healthcare is doing in America: They’re saying, ‘Fuck it, a few more dollars.’”

Following the sociopolitical scorn of these opening tracks, the album’s focus shifts to look at how the crisis has impacted individuals. The tracks “Predetermined” and “Bystander” stand out as particularly intense personal portraits. “I wrote 'Predetermined' after I got home from my childhood best friend’s funeral,” Short explains. “We led parallel lives to a point, then diverged. He was in rehab several times. It reached the point where, when I got the phone call saying he was dead, I wasn’t surprised. That track’s about that feeling of not being surprised.”

“Bystander” serves as an intriguing counterpoint to this perspective. “One of the worst feelings of my life is resigning myself to a friend who was on a course of self-destruction,” Short says. “I was wrong — he turned it around and is healthier than he’s ever been. That song is an apology”. 

For Short and Hale, straight edge is about ownership of personal autonomy. In a world marred by horrors beyond our individual control, following this philosophy is a means of remaining in charge of one’s own existence. It provides “something to believe in,” as Inclination expresses on “A Decision.”

There’s a touch of the spiritual to the language Inclination use regarding straight edge. “I find my relationship with straight edge spiritual, but it’s because it involves the community of hardcore,” says Hale. “I don’t find it to be a relationship with God, but I do find that when I’m at a show. That’s my form of church."

“To me, it is spirituality,” says Short. “But so is hardcore. There’s nothing more amazing to me than being in a mosh pit. It’s transcendent. It isn’t something I do to let out my aggression, I do that at work. I come to hardcore to be with the people I belong with.”

Unaltered Perspective is a remarkable attempt to foster this sense of belonging. It’s an intense ride, but also a consistently thrilling vision of hardcore punk at its most empathetic and human.