There’s a certain comic irony to Afterlife choosing to release their debut album now, just days before Cane Hill, the band who’ve so often been their closest and clearest reference point, are about to undergo such a significant shake-up. On paper, that’s possibly the most serendipitously advantageous thing that could happen – nu-metalcore is hardly the most versatile sub-genre and clearing the board is a good way to open up some space – but there’s also the distinct sense of apprehension that comes from an album like this. What should ideally be a transition defined by the natural ebb and flow of the sound feels more like a baton pass in the least subtle way possible, and if Afterlife’s lead-off singles have given the impression of a band riding the coattails of a much more successful act, the climate that Breaking Point arrives in only makes it seem more blatant.
Of course, that can all be greatly mitigated if that album is actually good enough to quell any notions of Afterlife being mere copycats over a band making a worthwhile contribution of nu-metalcore as a whole. And overall, it would be difficult to call this album that, but not for the right reasons. Looking at Cane Hill once again, there’s a manic, unhinged sense of electricity in their music, both in Elijah Witt’s astounding vibrancy and presence as a frontman, and in the way that adjacent genres like grunge and sludge add more to their nu-metal revivalism; as for Afterlife, they’ve got the necessary bounce and chug, but boiled down to its most base, simplified form, something that renders Breaking Point an astonishingly cold and toothless listen.
It’s not like it’s impressively terrible either though – Afterlife prove they can tick boxes with enough efficiency to make this listenable at the very least – but it’s the bare minimum of what they can get away with, and only serves to highlight their weaknesses in the face of their nu-metalcore peers. Chief among them is the relative lack of edge that Afterlife has, or at the very least what can’t simply be billed as the general trappings of the genre. In those regards, Breaking Point does certainly hit a watermark of capability, allowing a thicker, groove-driven stripe of guitar work to dominate to build that grimier, darker atmosphere, and on the likes of Sacrifice or the title track, fitting in the terse electronics of Motionless In White or even latter-day Korn for that extra industrial spice. And overall, that’s all perfectly fine; as a template, that’s a strong one for Afterlife to start with before building on it. Except that’s not what’s done here, and when the rest of their sound is occupied by wishy-washy modern metalcore tropes, the results can feel sanitised in a way that doesn’t benefit them in the slightest. At least when Tyler Levenson focuses more on screaming or dropping into creaking, malevolent whispers like on Grey Sky or New Rage, there’s something that verges on the ideal pitch-black potency, but that’s offset by an over-abundance of rapping that never displays much versatility or flair, and a penchant for a cleanliness in the production that rarely hits a spot of much synergy. By far the worst example is Holding On which clearly positions itself as Afterlife’s big crossover power-ballad, but dialing back the intensity for an explosive hook never feels like the best option for an album that should openly try to be as grisly as possible.
And it would wrong to suggest that Afterlife aren’t at least trying to do that, but it’s also impossible to ignore how much progression is kneecapped by decisions that have as negative of an impact as they do. It’s not even that difficult to isolate how much influence the modern metalcore climate has on it either, not only in the execution but in writing that’s caked in hard-measures and throwing significant amounts of clichés and tropes into the pot in a way that just could’ve been done better. It’s not without its moments of overall quality, like tackling America’s spate of mass shootings on Giving Back The Pain or Levenson’s fractured relationship with his parents on Broken Home, but the reliance on generalisation is telling with regards to how little of an identity Afterlife have at this point. Throat and Karma feel about as bog-standard as addresses of mental illness get, and PSA hits a real nadir by bringing the clap-back to the haters into 2019 when it could’ve been left literally anywhere else. At best, Breaking Point reveals itself to be a choppy, unfocused effort that might be endemic of debut albums, but hardly feels like a suitable excuse for anything here.
Granted, the desire to be charitable is there, especially when the flashes of quality make it easy to believe that Afterlife will undoubtedly grow from this album, but Breaking Point really isn’t the greatest start. Even when putting its unevenness aside, the tendency to fall into traps of such blatant rehashing and derivation puts a hard cap upon what they can actually achieve here. At least it’s easy to tell that this is clearly a starting point given how shaky it can be, but Afterlife will need to get their act together sooner rather than later if they want to do anything significant. Nu-metalcore doesn’t seem to be going away as a sub-genre, and middling efforts like this are something that won’t stand for long.
For fans of: Cane Hill, Motionless In White, Sylar
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Breaking Point’ by Afterlife is out now on Hopeless Records.