Like the vast majority of good, but not great hardcore records to be released over the past couple of years, almost every move on Prison Sweat feels intentional. This isnít to say that a great hardcore record should be a model of free, unmoored performance, but when your bandís entire M.O. is based around appearing as unhinged and off-the-cuff as possible, itís tough to ignore how much your record sounds like those Sex Vid singles from a couple of years back. Even the more ostensibly experimental tracks that bookend the record -- a seven-minute feedback jam that nobody will ever listen to all the way through, an eight-minute reverb "Damaged I" jam that encounters marginally more success -- seem awfully studied.
To Total Abuseís credit, the more mid-tempo fare on Prison Sweat ("Masked Killer," "Hogg," "Hidden Blood") does a good job of speculating about what a more competent Drunks With Guns would sound like, but DWGís remarkable incompetence is what made their instability ring true. All the feedback and lyrical imagery of stuck pigs and getting "ripped off" (again with the Drunks With Guns reference) suggests that Total Abuse are extremely interested in coming off as touched.
Thereís something awfully "performative" about Prison Sweat, which is one of the least endearing qualities a record like this can have. When they sing "Fade to black / everything fade to black" and "feeling real sick" on "Rotting Foil," it tends not to evoke the actual subject of the song (a drug deal gone bad), but rather a guy trying to act insane in order to avoid military service.
Total Abuse do a pretty good job of aping their socially irresponsible, mid-tempo forebears (Flipper, No Trend, Brainbombs, et. al), and in the absence of any new offerings from, say, FNU Ronnies or Twin Stumps, thereís a void to be filled in that department. But when a band like Total Abuse seems so deeply, predictably concerned with coming off as unpredictable, the result can create a cognitive dissonance that all the repetition and "misanthropic" lyrics in the world canít make up for.