It takes only seconds for Blackball's self-titled EP to show its power. After a brief feedback bleat, a wall of dense guitars pours forth. This minute-and-fifteen-second opener, "Bone to Pick," revolves around a stubborn riff that barrels ahead like an avalanche. It's a short, shocking way to set the tone for the rest of the EP, or better yet for a young band that has already shaped its stark, economical hardcore into a blunt-force weapon.
Blackball isn't exactly new, with members pulled from Triangle punk stalwarts such as Skemäta, Future Binds, and Abuse. and fronted by Ericka Kingston, a firebrand from Richmond's Crooked Teeth. But with most of those and other acts breaking up, and other key local players splitting town to help boost D.C.'s again-ascendant scene, Blackball has emerged as a de facto standard-bearer for local punk. Even the famed critic Greil Marcus gave the band a nod in his new Pitchfork column—that on the heels of a laudatory New York Times review, mind you.
After all, this powerful exercise in genre purism packs the thrills in tight. Blackball excels by distilling fury. "Marked By Ruin" moves through a thick scrim of distortion, though the riffs are lean and memorable, cutting a compelling figure in the noise. Blackball shrouds these songs in din and reverb, but the EP never forsakes momentum for texture. Rather, it feels like an oversize sound being forced into an undersize vessel.
Inside this claustrophobic atmosphere, Blackball showcases its streamlined songwriting. "One Rope/No Jury" offers a moment of relief with a spartan intro before exploding the tension with one rabid burst. During its ninety seconds, the song shifts from a D-beat rush into a sharp post-punk pre-chorus and, finally, into a half-time beatdown.
For all the surprising dynamism here, from that opening squeal to the closing dub-like drums, Blackball's most potent asset remains its ability to maximize the efficiency of its fury—frightening, invigorating, and wonderful.