PAGAN with Crave Death, Blind Girls & Masochist. Crowbar, Brisbane Saturday 18 August, 2018 At 8pm on a Saturday …
2018 has seen the release of a myriad of metalcore albums from both relative newcomers and genre-heavyweights alike. Alex Orr ranks 2018’s best of metalcore so far.
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Thornhill – Butterfly
For such a relatively young band, Thornhill are incredibly unique. When many bands start, they seem to find themselves replicating a specific band or sound within their own initial musical output, before experimenting and refining over the course of the next few releases. Thornhill have seemingly skipped over that entire process, instead opting to release a modest EP that really does sound different to anything else floating about these days. It has a very cinematic feel – the soaring choruses, the screams and roars, the intricate guitar work – it all feels huge, with a made-for-stadium type atmosphere throughout the EP. This is perhaps best encapsulated within single Reptile and closer Joy, the latter of which in particular really builds towards a blistering conclusion to the release, with a varied structure and a feeling of sombre ambience powering the track.
The album does have its caveats however – the synchronicity between songs can lead to a bit of the dreaded ‘samey-ness’ that plagues rock and metal music. It’s an easy criticism to make within this genre, but still one that should be addressed by the bands operating within it. It will be very interesting to see what a full LP would sound like from the Melbourne five piece.
Cancer Bats – The Spark That Moves
Cancer Bats first release in three years took the form of The Spark That Moves, a surprise release that contains the best music the band have made in years. The band have been on a sabbatical of sorts, moonlighting as a Black Sabbath tribute band (the amazingly named Bat Sabbath) on the live touring circuit. The time off has clearly re-energised the band, as they return here with with music imbued with an optimistic and infectious energy.
The older, doom metal sound of Cancer Bats makes way here for a more technically proficient style, with a varied slew of music influences being prominent on the record. We Run Free was written for festivals and stadiums, featuring a catchy chorus with rambunctious swagger backed up by a heavy and chaotic instrumental offering. Post hardcore influence creeps into Bed of Nails, while Space and Time (perhaps the best offering on the record) is made of squealing, unapologetic metal riffs. The band have fully embraced independence, and seem to be doing whatever they want musically – the renewed passion really shines through on The Spark That Moves.
The Plot In You – Dispose
Originally formed as a side project for Before Their Eyes’ Landon Tewers as an outlet for releasing heavier music, The Plot In You has progressed into something far more interesting. Whilst initially creating music based on the typical metalcore sound, Tewers’ songwriting has become more and more experimental, which has created interesting music in a genre where far too many bands follow the norm.
Album opener Rigged serves as a perfect microcosm of their attitude. Adding electronic elements and taking a post-rock style slow build structure really gives this album an epic feel, and allows Tewers’ to showcase his incredible vocal range from the start, transitioning from soaring high notes to some brutal screams. Feel Nothing has an uplifting and infectious hook to it, once again featuring the stripped back and clean-sung verses found throughout this record. It really is the best thing released under The Plot in You’s banner – they take what Bring Me the Horizon have been doing but with a considerably more able vocalist taking the reign, even if it is erring slightly too far on the side of derivation.
The New Age – Placebo
It’s been a while since a debut album had quite as much anticipation as this. The preceding release was 4 years ago, and fans for the band have been clamouring for a longer form release for quite some time now. But The New Age have finally overcome the roadblocks on their path, releasing Placebo – their most sonically interesting release yet.
The band’s last release featured a much more metalcore-focused sound, whilst this one takes this away and adds in a slew of new elements. Breakdowns make way for keys and synths, whilst the chunky riffs are still ever-present. The vocals take centre stage on this release, with frontman Justin Cotton really showing off his abilities, both in singing and songwriting. Clean vocals and the occasional rapped verse take more focus, whilst screams take a slightly lesser presence compared to previous releases. The band experiments on this album – and not every experiment is a success – but in doing so craft a sound that stands out from the scene and show an ambition that is sometimes lacking within the genre.
Palm Reader – Braille
UK-based rockers Palm Reader released what can only be described as a ‘Palm Reader’ record this year in Braille. Usually in reviews this is a negative – denoting a stagnancy or comfortability that holds back musical progression. On this release however, it denotes a truly individual sound – they experiment both stylistically and thematically, and do so with confidence.
With both intimate moments such as Inertia, powered by a minimalistic approach to melody and soaring chorus to the brazen and blistering Swarm, featuring incredible guitar work and violent screams, Braille really does run the gamut of tones. The album may suffer in terms of accessibility initially because of this, but with the amount the band pack in to the record this may have been an inevitability. Regardless, for a band that are eternally referred to as underrated, this record may finally make people sit up and take notice.
Sink the Ship – Perseverance is Key
Sink the Ship combine pop-punk, easycore and emotional angst-charged songwriting on Perserverance, their excellent debut release on with Sharptone Records. Well-polished and brazenly honest, the lyrics are an emotional outlet for lead singer Colton Ulery, who has imbued the record with an incredibly personal quality, fuelled by his past experiences. Despite the relatively heavy subject matter, the album has a punchy energy and solid songwriting throughout.
From the heavier offerings such as the aggressive Put Up Or Shut Up to catchy album closer The Chase, Sink the Ship show the maturity in songwriting of a band with double of their experience. Several guests appear on the album including Miss May I’s Levi Benton and Bertrand Pocet of Chunk! No Captain Chunk! – features seem to be becoming a staple of the band’s, which adds an extra layer of appeal to an already strong offering. The group really have nowhere to go but up, showcasing a renewed energy and drive on their latest release.
Read our review of Perseverance is Key
Parkway Drive – Reverence
Australia’s Parkway Drive have been forced to move away from the party band image they used to hold within the metalcore scene, and towards a more mature and refined image, presented in Reverence. Facing grief for the first time, Winston McCall’s songwriting takes centre stage, resulting in an emotionally charged and defiant release that has shades of optimism sprinkled throughout.
Musically, the album is primarily what the band knows. A tad formulaic but a thoroughly enjoyable record. McCall’s vocals sound better than they ever have, transitioning from death growls to screams with ease, whilst the rest of the band hold up their ends well. There’s a strong religious presence throughout the album, with the band exploring this newfound thematic territory on tracks such as I Hope You Rot and Cemetery Bloom.
The band have really ran the gamut, with the preceding Ire being chock full of stadium anthems, and are beginning to look like more and more of a complete package. It isn’t hard to imagine them filling stadiums soon with the way they are developing.
SHIELDS – Life in Exile
After releasing two head-turning EPs in 2013 and 2015, SHIELDS have finally released their first and highly anticipated full length, Life in Exile. Lead single Black Dog works as a microcosm of the whole album – combining an unbridled aggression and musical technicality, with soaring clean vocals by guitarist Sam Kubrick juxtaposing the harsh screams of frontman Joe Edwards. It isn’t a particularly innovative way of writing metalcore but the overall package here has such polish and confidence about it that the music doesn’t come across as generic.
The band have been through many trials and tribulations during the last three years, with the most recent being the unfortunate and untimely death of guitarist George Christie. The heartbreak and frustration certainly boils over here, with tracks such as Mother and It’s Killing Me offering heavy, chugging and aggressive guitars, anthemic choruses and groove-laden breakdowns. There really is little else to say about this band and album other than they may be painting metalcore by the numbers, but they are painting incredibly well. With any hope the London five piece will be able to release their follow up in less than three years, and continue to reach newer heights; they definitely have the talent to do so.
Grayhaven – Empty Black
Considering Grayhaven’s last record essentially amalgamated the sounds of scene heavyweights such as Underoath, Every Time I Die and The Dillinger Escape Plan, Empty Black is astounding. Most bands go through a phase of trimming their sound’s fat as they follow up their initial release, and do a bad-to-decent job. Grayhaven are no such band. They ramp everything great about their music – aggression, heaviness – whilst refining their musical output and adding several new generic influences. You’ll find shades of prog-metal, mathcore, post-hardcore and alt rock mixed in with their tried and true metalcore.
Despite a newer, wider range of influences, the record still comes across as mature and cohesive. Every decision seems to be purposeful, as the album seamlessly glides between genres – opener Sweet Machine is chaos in song form, holding both melodic and thrashier moments, whilst album highlight White Lighters is the closest thing to a ballad the band have written, and is a welcome divergence into new territory. The entire record is a massive attention grab in all the right ways, forcing people to stop and take notice of the Kentucky outfit. I can’t recommend this record enough for a truly diverse collection of songs that still manages to hold true to its metalcore origins.
The Armed – Only Love
While a frenetic energy is something spoken of a lot in relation to good metalcore music, it is rare that songs come across as just about ready to burst with sonic energy as much as the collection presented by The Armed on Only Love. Their top spot on this list may be questionable to some – this album is fairly experimental, which does result in an uneven offering – but when the stylistic decisions come off as so assured, it is difficult to not truly enjoy everything this record has to offer.
With the archetypical hardcore dynamics, chaos-infused electronics and smatterings of melody throughout, this album sounds like a group taking the music they know and writing it as if they were writing in this style for the first time, finely weaving in influential elements throughout. The three-pronged vocal assault (two male, one female vocalist) really adds a sense of excitement and an unmistakable ‘anything can happen’ tone. I can only recommend listening to this album all the way through, as opposed to individual songs; it is the only way to truly appreciate The Armed, as they effortlessly weave music that is chaotic at every level into one final, polished and most importantly innovative product, a feat particularly impressive within a genre lambasted for a sense of apathy and musical oversaturation.