The bust of Warped-core brought a lot of casualties with it as the metalcore paradigm harshly shifted from the sugary, heavily-produced mainstream fare into something heavier and more driven by nu-metal-style heft. But for all the bands hastily scrambling to adapt or die to some degree, blessthefall have been seriously lagging behind, made even more surprising by the fact that it hasn’t hit them that hard. 2013’s Hollow Bodies might have just hit the end of the genre’s run and is still considered their crowning achievement, but even in the liminal period of 2015, To Those Left Behind wasn’t exactly a failure either (even though neither have done a great deal to stick around today). As such, blessthefall’s movement to Rise Records comes as a bit of a surprise, especially seeing as they’re only now choosing to adapt, falling into the sleeker, more melodic metalcore camp that’s formed as the alternative to a heavier, rougher main strain.
On paper, that feels like, without question, the best move that blessthefall could have possibly made: there’s always been a slickness and something of a pop sensibility to their sound, and Beau Bokan’s strident, polished vocals have always been their most striking feature, so to hone in on and inflate those elements into the bulk of their sound definitely has a lot of potential. And even if Hard Feelings isn’t the newfound opus that’ll regenerate blessthefall into a huge force, it’s good in the same way that Palisades’ self-titled album was last year, bringing melody to the fore without totally circumventing some fairly sizable pitfalls. Still, for a fresh, clean take on metalcore, Hard Feelings is a perfectly decent offering with some genuine high points of note.
And really, the vast majority of Hard Feelings‘ highest points are in its use of hooks and melody in perhaps the most palatable way that blessthefall have done to date. There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about Sleepless In Phoenix or Sakura Blues as examples of blustery, widescreen modern metal, but there’s a lack of real gimmicky that’s impressive to see from this band, and they feel like such a natural fit for Bokan to flaunt an impressive clean range. Especially when placed next to the more convential metalcore of Cutthroat, dialing back some of the tired clichés that have run rampant through their past material feels like the best possible move, and as a result, there’s something fresher and more streamlined about the big, pounding strokes of Melodramatic or the truly epic upscaling of I’m Over Being Under(rated).
That’s not to oversell Hard Feelings by any means though, as blessthefall haven’t totally abandoned some of their less-than-tolerable streaks just yet. The main one is the use of electronics alongside slick production that’s become so tiresome by now, and while a track like Sakura Blues can get a harder pass by incorporating stronger synths within its composition in a tighter fashion, when they’re slathered over Find Yourself and Feeling Low, the memories of mid-2000s scenecore come flooding back that would be best off being repressed. And while blessthefall do admittedly try to avoid succumbing to the polish too much by amping up the volume in the guitars, it doesn’t really work with the tart pop-punk of Welcome Home, or the moments of AutoTune that are all-too-easy to pick up in Bokan’s voice.
Even so, these are baby steps in the right direction. blessthefall aren’t necessarily straying away from their tried-and-true formula, but isolating and expanding the better elements has set them down a far more likable path. Instrumentally and lyrically, you’re essentially picking at bones to find something truly substantial and worthwhile, but the hooks are there more often than not and they’re delivered in a more compelling fashion than this band would usually put their name to. Even if this is nowhere close to being a great album, blessthefall could have one to their name someday, and Hard Feelings is a worthy jumping-off point if those hopes do come to fruition.
For fans of: The Word Alive, Palisades, Heartist
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Hard Feelings’ by blessthefall is released on 23rd March on Rise Records.