How Caleb Shomo reinvented himself from the utter toss that was Attack Attack! to Beartooth is still a mystery, but thank God he did, because there was clearly a talent wasting away in his old band. Beartooth’s debut full-length, 2014’s Disgusting, was pretty much the best introduction they could’ve given, taking serrated, melodic hardcore, polishing it up a bit and adding in some rafter-shaking choruses for good measure. Such an approach has undoubtedly worked in their favour too, given how Beartooth have become the heavier band of choice to gravitate towards when discussing that section of the scene. To really keep up the pace though, it’s the difficult second album that needs to be up to scratch, and on Aggressive, the Ohio mob have done a solid job at following up their debut.
‘Solid’ is pretty much the best word for Aggressive because, while it follows the template that Disgusting laid out almost beat for beat, it doesn’t quite do it as well. The hooks aren’t as big, the riffs don’t slam as hard and the rawness and pain of their debut has been reined in a bit. Whereas in both sentiment and execution, Disgusting was like a sucker punch to the gut, by comparison Aggressive is more like a slap on the wrist. The main reason for this seems to be the recycling of the formula – Aggressive is essentially Disgusting Pt. 2, given that in terms of style, both are exactly the same. And when the material on this album is inherently weaker than its predecessor, that makes for a notable drop-off in quality. The reason that Rock Is Dead is the best song on this album by a mile is because it actually attempts something different, a straight-up, red-blooded rock ‘n’ roll song fed through the Beartooth filter. It seriously stands out, more than can be said for the rest of the album, which feels like a lesser equivalent of everything that Beartooth have done before.
But the thing is, Aggressive isn’t a bad album at all. In terms of the heavier end of the Warped Tour scene, Beartooth still run circles around the majority of their competition, and though this album mightn’t hit the heady heights of their debut, it largely does its job of dishing out some top quality mosh-ready yet melodic fodder. Hated and Loser have more of a punk feel to them with their sharp riffs and reliance on surging clean vocals (the latter especially), while Censored is probably the most effective attempt at capturing the desperation that framed their debut in Shomo’s powerful delivery and glitchy metal guitars, and However You Want It Said is probably the most poppy track in Beartooth’s locker with its squeaky clean vocals and soaring chorus. Even with the relative dip that most of Aggressive experiences, it still feels like a tight, potent package that can pack a punch when it wants to.
The only real way that Aggressive seems like a disappointment is when placed directly next to Disgusting. In those circumstances it does feel like Beartooth are re-treading old ground, but as its own separate entity, it stands up as a decent release. It does have its weak moments – Always Dead‘s focus on the heavier side of the band’s style leaves it feeling directionless as a result, and closer King Of Anything‘s stripped-back dynamic sounds murky and clunky – but the majority of this album sees Beartooth playing to their strengths, and doing it rather well. Outside of its pragmatic standpoint, this is an album that does more right than wrong, and the difference between both is definitely noticeable.
But comparing it to Disgusting can’t be avoided, and it does feel as though Aggressive is being damned with faint praise a lot of the time. It is a good album on its own merits, but it can’t help feeling like a step down from the same thing done better. But regardless, it won’t disappoint fans, and it has plenty of choice cuts to choose from in terms of crafting a great live set. Still, while Aggressive is overall a pass, it can feel like Beartooth settling into a groove, and that really isn’t a good position for them. Predictable is probably the worst thing a band like Beartooth can be, and Aggressive comes dangerously close.
For fans of: A Day To Remember, Of Mice & Men, Blood Youth
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Aggressive’ by Beartooth is out now on Red Bull Records.