As much as people love the changing face of metal (read that with as much incredulity as you deem necessary), there’s always a place for the bands who chose to stick with what they know, flying in the face of progress by refusing to budge from their set template. That wouldn’t be a problem if these bands could actually pull off their sound and have enough to stretch across an entire career without getting stale, but a significant percentage of the time, they really, really don’t. Looking at the worlds of metalcore and deathcore, it would be wrong to mention any names without first bringing up Sworn In, the Illinois act who’ve become a minor meme thanks to their borderline obsession with becoming the edgiest band around.
In a move that’ll surprise absolutely no one who’s even remotely familiar with them, then, third album All Smiles sees no change to that mindset whatsoever, though that would suggest that there was something worth keeping there in the first place. Instead, All Smiles is one of the most steeply transparent attempts at pandering to come out in some time, written by a band who are still in their angsty teen phase about a decade after it should’ve ended, and conveying it through means that have as much depth and intelligent investigation as the slogan on an average Hot Topic t-shirt. Tyler Dennen goes on about how damaged he is but how he loves the pain, and you can almost hear him ticking off every box on a checklist of edgy teen stereotypes. And sure, he might feel like this, but it’s never built upon, and without an ounce of real sincerity, there’s no convincing that this is anything more that one hilariously phony act. Hell, with track titles like The Smiling Knife and Helluputmethru pretty much giving the game away from the off, the only people who would actually buy into this are children going through an edgy emo phase who think they’re validated because of Dennen’s pandering.
But even then, you would hope a child would have enough of an advanced cognitive function to determine what good music, and that this is most definitely not it. All Smiles has previously been described as a “post-modern art piece”, which really is giving too much credit to a complete shambles of an album that thinks that taping together deathcore riffs so basic they might as well be royalty-free constitutes a good album. It doesn’t help that this album, pretty much in its entirety, feels pieced together from rejects from the cutting room floor of much better bands, whether that’s Cane Hill on Make It Hurt or Motionless In White on Puppeteer, yet the final product lacks any sort of direction, just mashing pieces together and hoping that any discordant noise-scape will turn out well, which they seldom ever do. Dennen isn’t out of the woods here either, and though he’s easily the best thing about this album by being, y’know, semi-listenable, you’d struggle to pick his nondescript screams out of a lineup, and his cleans could be lifted from any helium-voiced Matty Mullins wannabe slogging around the bottom stages of Warped Tour in 2011. Oh, and the fact that he tries to pull off a crying vocal in the dying moments of Cross My Heart is actually pretty shameful, especially when put next to a song like Beartooth’s Sick And Disgusting which doesn’t need to sell itself out to have emotional heft.
Put all that together and it makes for an album that’s essentially devoid of worthwhile qualities from front to back. In fact, the album that All Smiles may be best comparable to it The Amity Affliction’s This Could Be Heartbreak – both try to be simultaneously deep and manipulative in a way that feels impossibly ham-fisted; both settle for the bare minimum of their respective genres in terms of instrumental experimentation; and the worthwhile content in both could be printed on a postage stamp. And while The Amity Affliction may sink just a fraction of the way deeper because they’re actually getting away with their dross, Sworn In are most certainly not an alternative. There are so many better metalcore and deathcore albums than this. You’d be hard pushed to find a worse one.
For fans of: Cane Hill, Emmure, Motionless In White
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘All Smiles’ by Sworn In is out now on Fearless Records.