Ever since they arrived with their 2014 debut album Stovall, nihilism has been an important part of Microwave’s brand of post-hardcore. The band’s first release came just as vocalist Nathan Hardy was leaving the Mormon church, and his music since then has always been about a search for a new source of meaning. Microwave’s third full-length album Death is a Warm Blanket explores this concept as it manifests in times of greatest darkness, offering a full maturation of an already great sound and establishing them as a truly powerful emotional force of nature.
More so than on any previous Microwave record, the intensity of Death is a Warm Blanket comes from its crispy, focused production style. In opposition to the more pop-punkish take on their genre that the band has tended toward in the past, this new album is more likely to appeal to fans of artists with more indie appeal, such as Cursive and La Dispute. Pound for pound, this is some of the heaviest material the band has come up with to date, but even on some of the loudest cuts there is room for something to boil underneath, such as on the single “Float to the Top” which features a subtle instrumental basis that grooves more than it punches.
The following couple of tracks prove this album is capable of real brutality, between the catchy title track and the explosive highlight “The Brakeman Has Resigned.” The latter begins with a noisy quiet section that muses on despair and self-sabotage before coming to a head at one of the most heartbreaking moments of the record. At this climax, Hardy seems to play an active role in his downfall, “shoveling coal under the boiler” on a train that is hurtling him to certain demise.
The theme of watching yourself give up on self-improvement is a prominent one on this album. Even the title Death is a Warm Blanket implies a comfort in refusing to overcome your demons, and in coming to terms with the ease of letting yourself revel in self-destructive thoughts rather than lose the worst parts of yourself. On “Mirrors,” Hardy acknowledges this reluctance: “What do you do once you’re safe,” he screams, “and find that everything you wanted is everything you hate?” Never is this more on the nose than on “Pull” and its tag interlude “Love’s Will Tear Us Apart,” a personification of a persistent force to which Hardy surrenders after a lifetime of trying to keep it away: “I know what you want, I’m not resistant / I’m speeding it up.”
The album ends at its most spiteful with “Part of It,” reverting to old turns on Hardy’s relationship with religion: “I don’t want to spend eternity wandering around some distant cloud in a victor’s crown/that sounds like hell to me.” He closes the album by promising that those who have wronged him will get what they deserve at the end of everything, and that he hopes they think of him and know that he was a part of it. On an album that does so well at portraying the purest forms of pessimism, the hope for revenge is as hopeful as it ever needs to get.