Kaonashi can't be put into a box. Sometimes the Philadelphia band plays bouncy progressive post-hardcore. Other tracks are MySpace scene pop. The group's latest release The 3 Faces of Beauty: A Violent Misinterpretation of Morgan Montgomery could be best described as punishingly pensive deathcore.
The EP put out by Equal Vision Records on Jan. 26 is defined by its pummeling breakdowns and thoughtful lyrics. They can be understood in full due to the uniquely clear nature of frontman Peter Rono's piercing shrieks.
"It's for anyone, but it's not for everyone," the vocalist told Q of the band's catalog. "Not a lot of people understand what's going on."
This refusal to abide by genre expectations hasn't made things easy for Kaonashi.
"We're a band that's easily written off, so we're constantly the underdogs," drummer Ryan Paolilli said.
"We're really going against the current," Rono added. "We just want to do so many different things that sometimes it's hard to keep (listeners) on the same page."
But after more than a decade of writing, recording and relentless touring, the band has cobbled together a loyal fanbase that's equal parts metalcore mosh lords and Invader Zim-loving scene kids.
Rono created Kaonashi in 2012. The group is named after a character from Hayao Miyazaki's movie Spirited Away. Rono and guitarist Alex Hallquist are the only remaining members from the original lineup.
Kaonashi didn't hit its creative stride until Paolilli joined in 2016. The Massachusetts native met the band during a show at the Voltage Lounge, a defunct Philadelphia venue that was once at the center of the city's metalcore scene. His former band's van broke down on the way to the gig, but they were able to perform after Kaonashi offered up their gear.
Paollili quit his old band shortly thereafter and begged to join Kaonashi. He was living in New Hampshire at the time and would drive to Philly on a weekly basis to practice.
This was around the time Rono and Paollili came up with the narrative that's underpinned each of the band's releases since 2018's Why Did You Do It? The story is centered around a genderless Philadelphia high schooler named Jamie B. Moore, their love interest Casey Diamond and their nemesis Morgan Montgomery.
"It's a cautionary tale about how Jamie was led to an unfortunate event," Rono said.
The new EP deepened the narrative with lyrics written entirely from Montgomery's perspective. They explore the social fabric of Philadelphia through tales of life on the street and visceral anecdotes about the queer Black experience.
Coheed and Cambria were a big inspiration for the concept album anthology. The lyrics on the new EP were also inspired by Rono's own experiences and stories he's heard from friends.
Kaonashi recorded 3 Faces at producer Evan Sammons' home studio in remote Belgrade, Maine. Ahead of their two-week stay there, Rono and Paollili were listening to a lot of death metal. They cited groups like Necrophagist, Carcass and Cephalic Carnage as key influences on the EP.
The first song "Humiliation Ritual" is essentially one long breakdown that wouldn't be out of place on an Acacia Strain record. Paollili said the drums on the track were completely improvised and recorded in a single take. The lyrics are about Montgomery suffering a beatdown. After escaping his attackers, he comes across a white lady who crosses the street in fear when she spots him.
The most chaotic song on the EP is the lead single "I Hate The Sound of Car Keys," which came out all the way back in 2022. This track's lyrics discuss Montgomery's poor relationship with his father.
The first four tracks on the EP are more or less straight deathcore, but the final song "Exit Pt. V (Shame on a N**ga)" is more eclectic. It features some of the funky bass lines and smooth clean vocals that pepper many of the band's past releases. On this song, Rono's lyrics dive into why Montgomery is anxious about coming out as gay to his family.
"I was really writing it from a Black perspective," the vocalist said. " A lot of these kids are just in the closet because of how bad Black homophobia is."
Kaonashi was only in the studio with Sammons for two weeks, but they managed to record a whole other EP. The second record due out at some point this year sounds nothing like The 3 Faces of Beauty.
The band will explore their pop side on A Second Chance at Forever: The Brilliant Lies From Casey Diamond. The lyrics on the EP were written from the perspective of Moore's love interest. The lead single "Blood Red Camry Dance Party," a bubbly song about a teen getting their first car, is already available to stream.
Kaonashi will perform two record release shows in Philadelphia on Jan. 27 and 28. In March, they'll depart on a nationwide co-headlining tour with Mugshot to promote The 3 Faces of Beauty.