At The Gates
The Nightmare Of Being
Here’s a question that might prove controversial – how well do At The Gates really hold up nowadays? Slaughter Of The Soul is still rightfully held as a classic and a formative album within melodic death metal, but with the number of bands who’ve sought to recreate what it brought almost wholesale, it places the originators in a rather awkward position. That probably wouldn’t be the case had that stayed the note they bowed out on, as both 2014’s At War With Reality and 2018’s To Drink From The Night Itself, while undoubtedly proficient, felt like a band riding the wave rather than planting their flag as ones who helped shape it. None of this is cause for concern—there are bands who’ve aged far more poorly than At The Gates have even approached, even after a nearly two-decade hiatus—but it’s an interesting observation going into The Nightmare Of Being when it comes to the overall weight it holds. At least the band themselves seem to have taken that into consideration, but it leaves The Nightmare Of Being as a weird anomaly within At The Gates’ catalogue, as an album that tries to expand and enrich its metal formula, but doesn’t really do all that well. You can tell they’re on the cusp of it too, as there’s a number of good ideas here that feel as though they’d really work. For one, the writing based on Thomas Ligotti’s philosophy of pessimism feels like such a natural well for a band like this to mine; the darkness and doom-and-gloom sensibilities are prevalent, but articulated in a way that feels more artful and thoughtful, especially propping up a band in their later years. At the same time though, it’s not like Tomas Lindberg is given much of an opportunity to sell it all that well, when his voice is mixed to have no real body and his screaming technique seems oddly breathless. There’s none of the tight articulation in his performance that usually makes melodeath so striking, and when his own vocal timbre seems shockingly haphazard on a song like The Paradox, it feels really messy and unfocused.
In fact, ‘unfocused’ might be the operative word for The Nightmare Of Being as a whole, and not just because of how outside the melodeath bounds At The Gates are willing to stretch. Plenty of ‘true’ metalheads will undoubtedly recoil at the sinuous prog guitar work and saxophone that hold up Garden Of Cyrus, but the issue is less that it’s here at all, and more that there’s so little follow-through to it. That’s more prevalent in the track that follows, Touched By The White Hands Of Death, where the dramatic strings and woodwinds would appear to prelude a sweeping bombast that At The Gates would be more than capable of nailing, only to drop that thread almost entirely for faster, heavier death metal that, by comparison, feels like an overcompensation. Again, it’s indicative of how the seed of a strong idea is there, but the clunk of how its executed and, really, a notable lack of sticking power overall seems to scupper what the band are going for. The Nightmare Of Being can be noticeably less heavy that At The Gates are used to, and when that’s paired with a pivot towards a more gothic or even post-punk-inspired bent on Cosmic Possession, it’s made evident how awkward some of the decisions here are. Naturally, holding firm to their old ways like on Spectre Of Extinction and Cult Of Salvation works the best; there’s the usual epic sweep to the guitar work that’s more vibrant than any of the orchestral moments wedged in, and it’s just a more comfortable fit for what this band can do. At least the instrumentation on the whole is still competently produced, more so in how the guitars and bass are given a lot to do within the mix and can formulate that pulsing, powerful sound, even despite some dialled-back intensity. It’s more a case of The Nightmare Of Being caught between a number of ideals, and while being able to brush up against some of them every now and then, it doesn’t commit or really settle in when it should. It’s very transitional, but even then, it’s not always clear what it’s transitioning into; At The Gates are such an established name within metal that they can afford to experiment, but just throwing in new ideas without sufficient connective tissue isn’t conducive to a working leap forward. More often than not, it just winds up being forgettable and unfulfilling, a criticism that’s rarely been levelled at this band, even in their later years. Maybe just sticking to what they know is a better way forward.
For fans of: Dark Tranquility, In Flames, Children Of Bodom
‘The Nightmare Of Being’ by At The Gates is released on 2nd July on Century Media Records.
Born Of Osiris
Angel Or Alien
As much as Born Of Osiris fit all available criteria for the Sumerian-core they deliver—huge, hulking metalcore with an unmistakable emphasis on slick finish and synthetic embellishments—they’re easily one of the best at it. That’s mostly down to the sense of scope and adventurousness they have compared to so many others, in that they’ll actually find ways to enrich their sound rather than just steamroll over it. It’s why their albums tend to have a lot more replayability despite only incremental evolutions between each, and why Angel Or Alien, despite the hefty length that could be a glaring red flag in the wrong hands, still manages to stick the landing. To be fair, a lot of that can be attributed to muscle memory, but it’s not like Born Of Osiris aren’t continuing to embrace their flagrantly maximalist sound for everything that it’s worth. Even in some pretty cut-and-dry metalcore lyricism (adorned with peripheral touches of sci-fi and Egyptology to keep it fresh, thankfully), they aren’t a band looking to cut corners here. The thing is nearly an hour long, for a start, and hitting that mark without depleting itself of momentum like so many in its position are liable to do. It helps that the balance is skewed towards giving Ronnie Canizaro’s screams the most airtime, where there’s an intensity retained if nothing else if the more djent-flavoured passages begin to grow stale. That does happen, as an unfortunate casualty that the majority of these albums are burdened by, but it doesn’t afflict Born Of Osiris nearly as much as others. They’ve got a better grasp on peppering in new ideas and motifs to keep things interesting, to where the closer Shadowmourne might be the most sonically individual song here in its bombast akin to modern Architects drizzled with some welcomely obtuse saxophone.
But of course, Born Of Osiris’ killer app comes in the technical metalcore that forms the bulk of their sound, and not in the way that comes from simply leaning on the clattering noise that a lot of djent and tech-metal tones result in. On Angel Or Alien especially, any blockiness is succinctly cut back to lean more in the contemporary metalcore direction, though with that technical element suffused to harden up the edges. They actually strike that middle ground really well, where the jarred stomp of a song like Oathbreaker appears just as natural as the nods to Bury Tomorrow-style cinematics on Love Story. The ‘technical’ side is significantly more present in the production above all else, in the sharp, monochromatic guitars and Cameron Losch’s drumming that’s just the right amount of gated to convey the steadfast bleakness. Like with a lot of this sort of material, the presence of any noteworthy grooves or bass passages don’t tend to factor, but more than most, Born Of Osiris can work past it through a wider creative breadth. The synths of the title track, for instance, lend some more flavour than just that of cold metal, though it blends well with more technically-minded riffing on Crossface or You Are The Narrative, the latter even dipping into mathcore at times. It’s more than just a case of atmosphere; Born Of Osiris actually yield creative results through their synth work and production, which is a marked rarity in tech-metal that’s generally gone unheeded. It’s all the better for them though, as Angel Or Alien is more of the same strong, often envelope-nudging tech-metal that’s become very much commonplace for them. It mightn’t stand out too much in their own catalogue, but Born Of Osiris continue to prove themselves as more than just the standard with regards to the scene around them, and that’s worth taking note of. It feels as though they’ve been quietly doing that work for a long time now, and though it’s unlikely this one album with spur on much more recognition, it wouldn’t be incorrect to say they deserve it.
For fans of: Architects, After The Burial, Veil Of Maya
‘Angel Or Alien’ by Born Of Osiris is released on 2nd July on Sumerian Records.
Piecing It Together
Though they’re not the biggest band around, there’s become something so recognisable about Free Throw’s sound. It’s hard to pin down what it is, but it’s there unfailingly, and for this sort of emo that’s reliant on a lot of genre beats most of the time, it’s a worthwhile benefit for this band to have. They’ve never been particularly transcendent, even on their legitimate great moments, but there’s been such a resilience to Free Throw that’s always made their work stand out from the rest. What’s more, it’s good to see that hasn’t halted, even if their momentum seems to be building only at small increments; Piecing It Together is very representative of what this band are about, in the best way possible. At the same time, it’s not stagnant, or giving off the feeling of a band not willing to move themselves forward. Free Throw have always bore the unflinchingly heart-on-sleeve approach towards emo, and that bends well on an album like this, where the focus on pushing forward and making conscious decisions to find happiness and satisfaction are abundant, even despite what might feel like setbacks setting that course off the rails. That comes up on a song like Ocular Pat Down, standing in the wake of egotistical people unwilling to support such personal growth and evolution, but that movement keeps going regardless, and it feels righteous when it pays off. It also helps that Cory Castro has such a great voice for this sort of thing, rawly ebullient when it needs to be and able to spike out into screams as and when that grit is needed. As far as meeting standards go, it’s all the typical Free Throw fare, though with the sort of thematic development that’s greatly appreciated, and poignant when shadowed by a pandemic year and the context to emotional evaluation that lends.
The actual performance, on the other hand, has pretty much stayed still, though that’s not something to really criticise. The more fiddly spin on traditional emo has long been this band’s go-to, and despite not a whole lot of changes on the surface, Piecing It Together is still a strong example of it, where the tones are crisp but still organic and warm. The textures in the guitars and bass are extremely inviting, as they always are with emo like this, and a lot of the musical shades and filters give a more wistful mood to it all, particularly when the tone is more upbeat like with Force Of Will and Trust Fall. Daresay, they’ll even lean into the rougher side of pop-punk in how these compositions come together, though a song like Worry Seed with augment that with a harsher vocal performance from Castro to keep that human edge intact. They’re pretty standard emo tactics, but Free Throw are still able to get some mileage from them; in that case, it’s good that there are no severe peaks or troughs on Piecing It Together, and Free Throw’s uniform degree of high quality keeps their ideas nice and tightened. That can also mean it’s not the most electrifying album, and while the hooks are there, with enough vim and vigour to stick for the most part, that cast-iron strength that comes from the absolute best just isn’t there. Maybe that’s why Free Throw’s growth has been more a slow burn, in that there’s enough about them to stand out from the competition without totally breaking out into the upper echelons. That’s still a reasonable position to be in though, when a genre like emo most of the time won’t even allow for that, and there’s no reason that Free Throw couldn’t make that jump. They’ve been making what feel like deliberately lateral moves on their last couple of albums, something which does have merit when the quality has stayed so firm. It’s not like Piecing It Together doesn’t warrant being checked out, because it certainly does, but having that bump up to the top next time would hit the spot a lot more.
For fans of: The Wonder Years, Tiny Moving Parts, Hot Mulligan
‘Piecing It Together’ by Free Throw is out now on Triple Crown Records.
JORIS (A Hardcore Opera) – Part 2
One thing The Hell really do need to be commended for is their commitment to the bit. They’ve always been broad and brash since the very beginning, but the fact they’ve always leaned into it and used that philosophy to not only punch up hyper-aggressive hardcore but make it subtly wittier at times is good for what can easily be deemed a joke band. Of course, that second feature isn’t always a guarantee; the fact they’ve actually bothered to continue their saga about an average hardware store worker chasing his dreams of being a rockstar certainly leans more towards comedy, where the dedication can often be more impressive than the execution. Thus, it’s appropriate that one of the central themes of this second volume is ‘give it some heart’, seeing that there’s a lot of perseverance on show despite the shortcomings endemic in its predecessor are probably even more noteworthy here. Where there was time for its characters and story beats to be established last time, Part 2 runs at breakneck speed to get everything finished, and winds up placing broad comedy to the fore that—to be perfectly honest—is nowhere near The Hell’s usual standard, even in that lane. Having Jamie Lenman as the washed-up musician Jeremy Lonsdale is a good turn, and he does well with his cod-synthpop pastiche Frightened Of Authority that’s one of the funnier moments here, but between over-the-top accents and a criticism towards metal that clearly wants to go somewhere but never does, Part 2 winds up without much to really enthuse most of the time. Even the central ‘message’ of sticking it out as a new band feels like a dangling thread, to where when the story ends and the band succeed with We’re The Greatest Hardcore Band Of All Time, it’s a premature ending when it comes with no suitable buildup.
Maybe it’s expecting a bit too much to see a full narrative unfold, partly because this sort of audio-play doesn’t work in the album format and partly because that’s not what The Hell would actually deliver, but even compared to Part 1, there’s definitely something of a drop-off here. The skits are overacted and take up what feels like even more of the runtime; of the 23 tracks here, maybe seven of them feel like actually songs, and even fewer that could stand on their own outside of the album context. When the band go for straight hardcore like on Back To It or We’re The Greatest Hardcore Band Of All Time, they’re the only instances where The Hell feel like they’re properly in their element; there’s a sense of groove and heft that’s well-captured, and the combination of venom, swagger and humour is a lot more tight-knit. But the cabaret outro to Uncle Alan’s Car Shack that comes after an already cheesy deviation isn’t precisely good, nor is the inflated Tony Blackburn impression on You’ve Got It. There’s clearly been the decision made to prioritise story and setting above actual music, even more so than last time, but that really hurts Part 2 as its own entity, and even when paired with its predecessor. That felt better constructed overall despite having some of the same issues, whereas Part 2 only seeks to double down on everything placed in questionable stead going forward. For as much as the first part didn’t warrant repeated listens, that’s even more that case here; it doesn’t hold up on its own, and doesn’t produce much of a satisfying result with what it does offer. At least it seems to wrap up that JORIS saga; that would thankfully imply there’s not more of this to come.
For fans of: TRC, Möngöl Hörde, Jamie Lenman
‘JORIS (A Hardcore Opera) – Part 2’ by The Hell is out now on Black Mist Records.
Like the Star Wars character with which they share their name, you’ll only really find appreciation for Bossk in the deeper parts of the fandom. They found love in the latter part of the 2000s in post-metal circles with their two EPs, but that’s naturally a rather impenetrable niche to hit, and they wouldn’t even release a full album until 2016, a whole four years after coming off hiatus. But in similar fashion to their namesake, Bossk work best when used for spice, and that’s exactly what this new album offers, pretty much from front to back. Even within a rather fallow post-metal scene, Migration isn’t a flashy listen, but it’s the sort of album that really gets its hooks in at the deepest level. Somewhat ironically, that means the songs with guest vocalists probably fare the weakest, even if they themselves are nothing close to bad. It’s more a case of the bleakness feeling too constrained rather than allowing itself to bleed out, and even though Cult Of Luna’s Johannes Persson and Palm Reader’s Josh McKeown can definitely sell it on Menhir and HTV-3, it’s the sort of conventionality that this era of Bossk can definitely move past. It’s a lot better when it could suitably reflect the image that adorns the album’s artwork, of a dilapidated building where the sinister aura it gives off is only enhanced by the overcast skies behind it, and the grim, grey colour palette the scene is painted in.
But even then, this isn’t the impregnable wall of noise that a lot of post-metal can be. Songs will run long, sure, but Bossk’s command of atmosphere and the musical environment around them does a whole lot more for these compositions. Opener White Stork has the darkly urban sensibilities in the cold tones that build into a droning collage, peppered with percussive clicks and feedback whirrs that’ll be repeated and recontextualised on Kibo, or on the hulking build that makes up Lira. Bossk really do have a grasp on how evocative an instrumental band needs to be, and the fact they open themselves to incorporate those darker sounds and borderline field recordings show a commitment to the craft that many won’t have. It helps that the production never feels in the way either, and the use of negative space that’ll gradually get filled with more density is a great technique when it works. It works a lot too, as Bossk will embrace how liminal their sound will often feel, with a track like Unberth feeling like the well-timed collapse of everything brought up before it. Thus, it is emphatically not for everyone, and really only sits the best in very specific moods, the same as a lot of post-rock and post-metal leaning on abject bleakness so unwaveringly heavily. It’s more a feature than a flaw though, even if Migration isn’t the sort of album that feels equipped for spins upon spins, as is the nature of the music itself. For the people seeking this out though, they’re not going to complain; at the end of the day, it’s Bossk doing exactly what they do best, and showing once again how their overall lack of prolificness hasn’t dulled them one bit.
For fans of: Amenra, Mouth Of The Architect, Latitudes
‘Migration’ by Bossk is out now on Deathwish Inc..
Life In Colour
Simply by virtue of what sort of band they are, there’s no reason to go into Picture This’ new album with high expectations. Everything they’ve done up to now has been inextricably linked to the sanitised, edgeless ‘indie’-pop that Ireland regularly seems to pump out, but most of the time, they don’t even have hooks like The Script or a sense of tangible size like Walking On Cars. They profoundly fall into the middle of the road, with music that’s inoffensive to a fault and will fall away from memory the second it’s over. Not only does that encompass their previous work, but it highlights how not a thing has changed with Life In Colour, perhaps with the exception of some poppier synth flourishes and production touches that sound marginally more contemporary, but never meaningfully so. Instead, Picture This continue to rest on their slushy, mid-tempo pop fare, whose idea of accessibility comes down to a simple inability to try anything creative or standout. Guitars and basslines are pretty much gutless from front to back, relying on percussion, vocal layering and the swooshing clouds of reverb to get literally anywhere a good percentage of the time. It doesn’t help that the more stripped-back songs like Addict Of Magic or I Don’t Feel The Same Way Anymore are so wet and simpering; it feels like Picture This are deliberately target that indie-pop space where it benefits to be a shallow as shallow as possible, and where even the vaguest prospect of swell or emotion will likely rope in praise. It’s no wonder, then, that so much of Life In Colour sounds like soundtrack fodder or radio filler, when that’s about as high as they’re aiming with any of this.
As such, Picture This never impress all that much, though it’s not like they’re trying to when both their floor and ceiling of quality is pretty minimal. There’s the usual collection of saccharine love songs and almost impossibly broad emotionality that’s ultimately apropos of nothing in particular, other than a very safe and easily digestible album for mainstream ears. And that would be fine if it felt like Picture This were even attempting more, except Life In Colour, contrary to what its name might suggest, is awfully drab. To go for the lyrics on an album like this might seem like punching down, but it’s not like it isn’t justified; acknowledging how clichéd the ‘love as drugs’ metaphor is on Addict Of Magic isn’t an excuse to keep using it, and there isn’t even that level of self-awareness on Die For You. At least Winona Ryder and Oslo are marginally more out-of-the-ordinary in the imagery and language they choose, but they’re in the true minority of pulseless, lovestruck fare that even feels terrified of its own prospect of drama with I Don’t Feel The Same Way Anymore and Lucky I Was Loved at the end. Granted, ‘drama’ is vastly overselling what Picture This are all about here; any vestige of punch or grounding or impact, positive or negative, is not in this band’s wheelhouse in any capacity. It’s safe, palatable fare for the meat grinder, ready to be forgotten as quickly as it’s consumed, and never to be returned to under any regular circumstance. It’s probably worth qualifying that by saying Picture This aren’t a wretched band, but they drum up so little reaction that it’d probably be better if they were. At least then there’d be something to grab onto, instead of more indie malaise just as empty as the last dose.
For fans of: The Script, Kodaline, Walking On Cars
‘Life In Colour’ by Picture This is out now on Let’s Get It Records / Republic Records.
In The Eye Of Death We Are All The Same
Yep, it’s metalcore. Oh, is there more? Is there more to say about what feels like one huge branch of the genre averaged out in the vein of countless others trying to make a name for themselves by blindly following the rubric of one of the least inventive genres out there? To be completely fair to Defocus, it’s not their fault the wider scene has become so repetitive, and at least this debut album doesn’t feel cynically motivated. Simon Müller is one hell of a screamer, for one, somewhere between Dani Winter-Bates and Sam Carter in terms of a more feral, leonine tone that’s still perfectly tightened up. In fact, the sound of the band as a whole has the feel of a halfway house between Bury Tomorrow and Architects, operating on a more classic metalcore framework with the sleekness and technically-minded production overlaid. It’s not a bad sound and fits the sort of scope this band are shooting for, but you won’t come across a unique idea among it, or even the sort of growing pains that could mark them out as an act legitimately cutting their teeth. Right out of the gate, Defocus feel boxed up and ready to ship, with nary a hair out of place in what would’ve been the perfect fit for the Impericon crowd in the earlier part of the 2010s. That’s less an endorsement as much as it’s a neutral categorisation; Defocus are absolutely getting by on proficiency over flair, and it shows by how regimented within their genre basically all of this feels.
Nothing about it is unlistenable, but nowhere do Defocus really innovate or feel as though they’re adding anything. They sound professional and to standard, insomuch as the low-slung guitars and tech-metal drums mask most noteworthy basslines, and lyrics about the evils of modern society and humanity’s rampant selfishness are serviceable if nothing else. When it comes to hitting the framework and the broad points, there’s no real error here; this is a very academic take on modern metalcore that ensures everything is slotted into place and working at max capacity. The problem is that doesn’t allow for the creativity that’s necessary to really thrive, and instead just feels like another heap of auto-generated tech-metalcore that goes down easily enough at nine tracks including an interlude (an atmospheric one at that, naturally), but won’t be remembered when there’s so much else out there to grab the attention far more profoundly. It’s the worst type of music to try and evaluate, on the basis of being proficient but wholly unremarkable in a genre for which that takes up a disproportionate amount of space. One more for the dead centre then, only making it more cramped.
For fans of: Architects, The Ghost Inside, Bury Tomorrow
‘In The Eye Of Death We Are All The Same’ by Defocus is released on 2nd July on Arising Empire.
Words by Luke Nuttall