A number of long-running metalcore bands are known for softening their sound and going radio-friendly as time goes on. Well-known examples include Architects, Parkway Drive, and Bring Me the Horizon (though the latter band did so in a way that was much more well-received, with Sempiternal widely considered their best release to date). What happens when one of those bands switches back? Can it work? May’s edition of Territory’s Edge features one notable example, along with a variety of other heavy music releases that run the gamut from alternative metal with shoegaze influence to melodic black metal to death-doom and more.
Heretoir – Wastelands
Influenced by bands like Alcest and Lantlôs, Heretoir’s early work conveyed an atmospheric, yet raw depressive black metal sound. Their second album The Circle added more elements of progressive metal and polished production. While still rooted in black metal, Wastelands is decidedly more melodic as it explores the post-rock side to the band’s sound. The three tracks of Wastelands explore themes of consumerism and environmental destruction. Three live versions of songs from The Circle also appear, giving them a more raw veneer in contrast to the studio sheen of the album versions.
Opener “Anima” incorporates blast beats and a memorable hook as frontman Eklatanz sings “I don’t want to die for nothing.” The subdued “At Dusk” acts as a bridge, transitioning into the cathartic title track that acts as the centerpiece of the EP. “Wastelands” portrays the desolation and fallout of a broken world. The album cover itself conveys this imagery, as a single white caribou wanders alone on a snowy mountainside. For listeners new to Heretoir, Wastelands provides an accessible and appetizing introduction to the band.
Inferi – “Eyes of Boundless Black”
May started off on a strong note for metal as this Nashville technical death metal band returned with a new song on the first of the month, accompanied by its music video. “Eyes of Boundless Black” leans more in a melodic death metal direction, reminiscent of early Black Dahlia Murder at points. After an ominous, orchestral intro, Stevie Boiser’s feral, snarling delivery commands your attention along with a dual guitar attack. This single also introduces a new guitarist, Sanjay Kumar. He replaces Mike Low and has also played in previous technical death metal bands, including Greylotus, Wormhole, and Equipoise. Overall, “Eyes of Boundless Black” is a promising early single from Inferi that hints in a possible new direction for the band.
Thulcandra – Hail the Abyss
Steffen Kummerer is the guitarist and songwriter for two bands, formed one year apart. In addition to the technical death metal band Obscura, he also started the melodic black metal group Thulcandra, named after a Darkthrone demo. This name itself is also a C.S. Lewis reference – Thulcandra is the hrossa name for Earth in his novel Out of the Silent Planet. (However, Steffen Kummerer’s project won’t be the only notable band with a name originating from this book to release music this year!)
One strength of Thulcandra’s latest release, Hail the Abyss is the varied song tempos and structures that keep things interesting. Overall, it’s a pretty dynamic, well-paced album. Blast beats and melodic guitar leads can be heard throughout. Guitar harmonics stand out on “As I Walk Through the Gateway”. The instrumental section and interlude precluding the dynamic, slower closing track “Final Closure” are nice touches as well.
Currents – The Death We Seek
This melodic metalcore band from Connecticut (not to be confused with a lesser known Currents from Texas) returned with their follow-up to The Way It Ends. The new album takes a slightly different approach, and is once more produced by Ryan Leitru (Nothing Left, ex-For Today) along with Currents’ own guitarist Chris Wiseman. Lyrically, the album explores the weight of our choices and responsibilities for these decisions.
At times, The Death We Seek is reminiscent of the 2000s metalcore style – emphasizing melodic guitar riffs and catchy choruses in the vein of It Dies Today or Still Remains – though with a modern approach, in the context of the current “djent” movement. The band’s instrumental technicality and skill helps elevate them above some of their peers in the metalcore scene, while also offering very accessible hooks. Three singles we heard prior to the album’s release – “The Death We Seek”, “Remember Me”, and “So Alone” – have the strongest and most memorable hooks compared to the rest of the tracks, especially “So Alone”. Other tracks like “Vengeance” and “Living In Tragedy” see Currents venturing downstream in a heavier direction, with drop-E tuned riffs and low guttural growls.
The Amity Affliction – Not Without My Ghosts
Several metalcore bands from the late 2000s and early 2010s have famously transitioned to a more radio-friendly sound, often with mixed results. The Amity Affliction is one of those bands. However, their latest album Not Without My Ghosts is an interesting case as it’s actually their heaviest project to date. Following two softer albums that leaned more in a rock direction, the Australian metalcore band reversed course with a more aggressive sound.
Songs like “Show Me Your God” and “The Big Sleep” incorporate blast beats and a more chaotic approach even as the band’s familiar melodic and catchy choruses remain present. February single “I See Dead People” ventures into deathcore, with no singing whatsoever. In fact, the closing title track is the lone soft song of the ten. On the new album, the band’s bassist/clean vocalist Ahren Stringer noted that The Amity Affliction’s career began “at the height of screamo popularity. Things always come full circle and [heavier music] is very popular again.”
Love Is Noise – “In the shadow of your former self.”
The opening moments of “In the shadow of your former self.” feel like a nostalgia trip to early 2000s rock. Elements of early Linkin Park and Deftones abound without coming across as derivative of those bands. It’s another reason why Cameron Humphrey’s band Love is Noise, which he started following the dissolution of his previous band Lotus Eater, is worthy of increased traction and attention. The song follows the band’s debut EP Euphoria, Where Were You?, from last fall. While the Love is Noise discography is still small (consisting of ten songs to date), the songs display a remarkable versatility. Sounds of shoegaze, hardcore, and alternative metal can be heard, blended in different ways. Don’t sleep on this band.
The Acacia Strain – Step Into the Light and Failure Will Follow
The Acacia Strain released two heavy albums on the same day. Together, the cover artwork for Step Into the Light and Failure Will Follow depicts a robin scavenging a deceased deer in the forest in order to feed hungry nestlings, revealing a scenario of death sustaining new life. Careful listeners will notice a recurring melody across both albums, bookending Failure Will Follow while also showing up on Step Into the Light track “Sinkhole”. Thematically and sonically, both albums complement each other, diverging off in two dramatically different directions.
The first, Step Into the Light, is brisk and brutal. Several songs run under two minutes in length, while the whole album clocks in at just 23 minutes. It heavily emphasizes grindcore and hardcore punk, as demonstrated by the breakneck pace of the first three tracks.
Failure Will Follow takes the opposite approach and is a progressive doom/sludge metal record. With each of its three tracks exceeding ten minutes, the album’s format allows a full realization and exploration of ideas. The first track, “Pillar of Salt” starts on an ambient, foreboding instrumental which gives way to crushingly heavy riffs played at a measured pace. Haunting vocals from featured singer iRis.EXE enhance the desolate atmosphere at the end. Elements of “Pillar of Salt”, especially this closing section, reminded me of Courtney LaPlante’s contribution to the similarly excellent Slow Decay track “One Thousand Painful Stings”. In contrast, the intermediary track “Bog Walker” is a more straightforward, steady sludge metal piece.
The final Failure Will Follow song, “Basin of Vows” begins as a brutal death-doom metal track, featuring Ethan McCarthy of Primitive Man, a Denver-based band known for their harsh, caustic take on the doom genre. Progressing full circle, the opening theme from “Pillar of Salt” returns in the riffs of “Basin of Vows” from the 6:17 point to the end. The band invested a year into the conceptualization of these records, and it shows within the numerous details.