It’s practically impossible to talk about Darkbloom without also mentioning the passing of Kyle Pavone in 2018. An event like that would always be the case for any band, and regardless of what you think of We Came As Romans, their decision not to replace him would always have repercussions on the output to follow. The magnitude is a bit more difficult to discern; some of the drip-fed singles they’ve released in the period since have naturally swung in that direction lyrically, though that seems to be where it ends. As they’ve made clear over a number of releases now, We Came As Romans are effectively locked in that 2010s sphere of metalcore that dips in and out of fashion, but seldom seems exciting anymore. For as much of a shake-up as losing such a key member in tragic circumstances can cause, it doesn’t appear to rocked the boat that much for We Came As Romans creatively.
But that also isn’t anything new from a band whose creativity have always been more defined by the scene around them than how they’re shaped within it. When Tracing Back Roots was presented as their big break, that was in 2013 when the vast majority of metalcore finding prominence was on the same wavelength. So now, almost a decade later and in a position where readjustment can rightfully be seen as the name of the game, Darkbloom comes across like business as usual.
Far be it to admonish a band for the way they bounce back, especially when it’s something like what We Came As Romans have gone through, but it’s the fact that Darkbloom can largely be framed as a tribute to Pavone and an address on his death that can make it feel so hollow. Removed from the context of that even, there’s precious little about Darkbloom that feels different from We Came As Romans’ usual fare; emotionality is kept so vague in the actual poetry, only bestowed deeper meaning by the context around it. At its best, there’s a song like Promise You, in which the situation about a loved one coming to the end of their life is still left open, but there’s more to gravitate towards overall. By comparison, Golden or One More Day stay hemmed in by metalcore’s approach of deliberately broad applicability, and the bullish aggression on Daggers and Doublespeak feel like they belong to a different album entirely.
It’s just disappointing to see how reticent We Came As Romans are to step out of their comfort zone, at a time when it’d arguably be easier than ever for them. Even if this is a greater form of expression, nothing about Darkbloom gets to a point where that feels believable. When you get Fit For A King’s Ryan Kirby tweeting that metalcore can convey emotion better than any other genre, it’s albums like this that feel like the easiest rebuttal, coming in the wake of a friend’s passing, and feeling so workmanlike in how it’s presented.
Of course, that’s entirely a matter of perspective; from inside the band’s camp, this might be the rawest expression of grief and celebration of life they can muster, and more power to them if that’s the case. But very little about Darkbloom screams ‘raw’, more just an extension of We Came As Romans’ canned approach to metalcore that’s seen them slipping for years now. It has its moments, sure—Daggers is the clearest example of genuine brutality in how simply calamitous the guitars are, and bringing onboard Beartooth’s Caleb Shomo for Blacked Out lends a good sprig of venom—but for the most part, Darkbloom is such a flavourless listen.
Production is an obvious issue in how much of the weight is sapped out, but there’s also the fact that the album is almost constantly drowning in effects, or losing sight of where its footing as a metal band is. One More Day seems more preoccupied with being a tropical house song is how airy and weightless the majority of its excursions turn out; meanwhile, the lack of muscle on songs like Plagued or The Embers is such a conspicuous ploy to sound epic and sweeping, when all it does is undercut the potential to foster real power. It’s the constant trade-off between grandeur and power instead of embracing both that’s frequently been We Came As Romans’ greatest weakness, and Darkbloom is no closer to rectifying that. At least Dave Stephens is capable of carrying the load as the sole vocalist, and even if he’s nothing special in terms of range, he hits the right beats of a scene frontman to at least get somewhere.
But for a band like this whose general perception has never been that overwhelming, at a time when they can really show what they’re capable of and turn that around, it just isn’t enough. We Came As Romans have become so subsumed by the radio-metalcore rubric that it’s basically inescapable for them now, and it’s doing them a disservice above all else. They don’t lack potential but they aren’t living up to it, and thus an album as potentially pivotal as Darkbloom seems destined to fall by the wayside, as the vast majority of their output has. This could—and should—have been more, and it’d been exponentially more noteworthy had that actually been the case.
For fans of: blessthefall, I Prevail, Memphis May Fire
‘Darkbloom’ by We Came As Romans is released on 14th October on Sharptone Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall