By Paul Trzos
COVID-19 has heavily impacted musicians at almost every level. In touring and recording, the pandemic has changed how musicians have approached their craft. Artists who are heavily reliant on the workflow of touring and other in-person promotions have had to adapt in a variety of ways.
Many affected musicians play locally, but bars and dedicated music venues that serve as the lifeblood of their musical scenes closed temporarily. Despite missing a vital energy source for a year and a half, artists who endured resurfaced stronger than before, such as Cycle of Abuse.
Hunter Smith, lead singer of this local Philadelphia-based hardcore metal band, seems comfortable and excited to return to touring on the East Coast post-lockdown. Relaxed in a black hoodie, he offered insights into being part of the local scene and the creative process as the band prepares to unleash a new EP.
What are your favorite things about performing in this genre [beatdown hardcore]? Beatdown is a niche [metal/punk] genre. I think my favorite thing about playing it is that it’s like you’re playing pop music. Every riff exists to get people to start moving. It’s fun and gets people excited.
Could we talk about the songwriting process? What inspires the intensity we hear in your lyrics? When we wrote that EP [Cycle of Abuse], I was listening to death metal. I’ve been getting into a lot of new sounds in beatdown, getting more fast-paced in the vocals and lyrics and bringing more of a hip-hop vibe. I’ve always been into deathcore. I really like those raw, low-type vocals. Hard s*** only, you know?
How do you usually train your voice? There are a few warmups I’ll do. You know, stretch your throat and hum, some diaphragm exercises. Over COVID, we weren’t playing shows, so I fell off on that. It took a month of consistently practicing for me to get back to that point. At first, it was like, ‘What happened?‘ It goes to show that you can lose it if you don’t use it.
The samples at the beginning and ending of many of your songs are diverse, ranging from classic hip-hop to quotes. How have some of your influences affected Cycle of Abuse? Our guitarist picks all the samples. We wanted to go for a DIY style. Back in the day, if you had a tape recorder and recorded over something, you’d have bits of whatever used to be on there. As far as influences, Enemy Mind is a huge one, Body Bag… [and] a lot of the newer hardcore bands like Never Ending Game.
Cycle of Abuse started to drop music last year with your EP when things started to get crazy with COVID. What was it like being unable to play together? We had maybe eight shows lined up almost back-to-back in late March and April  and a release show in mid-April, so it really sucked [laughs]. Once we got to June, we were like, “We can’t sit on [the EP] anymore.” [Once] wearing masks [for in-person meetings] was fine, we would just jam. After a while, we just switched to writing mode.
[The EP] got a lot more attention than I thought [it would]. Bands that just waited out COVID to drop stuff kind of suffered. It was a good time to drop because people had nothing else to do.
What was the first performance after lockdown ended like? Before COVID we were playing so many shows that it was normal. But playing that first show [after lockdown] felt like the first show I played with Cycle. I felt nervous again. It felt awesome to be back on stage, and every show we’ve played since COVID there have been more people there. It’s cool that now every time we play, there’s more than just our friend moshing. [laughs]
What projects do you guys have planned? What’s the best way to support you? We’re waiting on a guest spot for our new EP [Ultimate Suffering]. It’s going to be five songs. We’re really proud of it. The best way to support us is to go to the shows. Buying merch. Or for promoters, if they have shows going on, you know. That’s always good.
Anything else you’d like to add? We’re going to have a release show in November on the 27th. It’s going to be in Philly, and it’s going to have a sick lineup. Whenever [the EP] gets done, then we’ll drop it.