When Suicide Silence said that deathcore needed shaking up earlier this year, they weren’t exactly wrong. Even the most ardent fans of the genre can admit that, going down the line, it can start to blur together into one fat mass of chugs and growls. But with their attempt at changing things up feeling more than a bit off, and with the honestly hyperbolic panning their self-titled album got from both critics and fans alike, it seems less and less likely that Suicide Silence’s pleas will actually be listened to. That’s a shame too, as it would put the pressure to adapt and evolve on bands like The Acacia Strain, the purveyors of deathcore’s “brown note” and a band who’ve been virtually in stasis with their output since 2010’s Wormwood at the very latest.
While on the face of it, they would seem like the perfect targets to put on blast for conforming to every expectation about a lack of ingenuity, at least The Acacia Strain get what the genre is about. As little progression as has been made on eighth album Gravebloom, there’s an understanding of how to get the most out of it, and though it’s nothing close to a must-hear album, it’s decidedly distanced from the run-of-the-mill territory that so much of deathcore is automatically deposited into. For one, there’s a greater sense of atmosphere and menace that comes in the guitar work. There’s an emphasis on thick, almost doom-tinged riffs rather than breakdowns or low-end hammering, and alongside its grisly, death-obsessed imagery and Vincent Bennett’s vocals which are the closest to having serial killer vibes as you can get without being the real thing, Gravebloom hyper-dedication to its cause can be felt from minute one. And with the eerie spoken word interlude on Worthless, the sombre guitar knell that kicks off the title track and all nine crushing minutes of the closer Cold Gloom, The Acacia Strain do well at maintaining this atmosphere throughout; there’s an extra step towards genuine darkness that deathcore often fails to take, and it definitely pays dividends overall.
That said, The Acacia Strain have earned something a reputation recently for failing to budge from their set template, and Gravebloom does nothing to challenge those assertions. Couple that with their prolific nature to releasing albums, and this honestly feels like another stab at the same target. Even among its own tracks, the material on here can feel drastically interchangeable, with everything other than the attempt at a classic metal-style solo on the title track lacking any real definition or characteristics. The constant fixation on death and violence doesn’t help either, running on the same ground over and over again in a manner that gets tiresome in a hurry, especially with the limited songwriting palette that The Acacia Strain have. It makes Gravebloom‘s limitations all the more glaring, in that the band can work well with what they have here, but they don’t have much.
Really, it’s hard to imagine Gravebloom having an impact on anyone beyond longtime Acacia Strain fans, and even then with the amount of backtracking and repetition here, that’s a stretch. It may do a good job at differentiating The Acacia Strain from the ever-growing deathcore company – probably the biggest hurdle to get over – but it largely feels like another day at the office bereft from any progression. Then again, for something with a bit more weight and meat than the -core stereotypes would often allow, Gravebloom is worth a few spins, at least until the next one inevitably comes out in a couple of years’ time.
For fans of: Despised Icon, Chelsea Grin, Whitechapel
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Gravebloom’ by The Acacia Strain is released on 30th June on Rise Records.