Before I properly delve into this album review, I’d like to put forth a slightly philosophical question; is it human nature to judge the book by its cover? Although we like to tell others that we do the opposite, it can just be difficult to go into a newer band’s release without any form of preconceived notion. We make quick judgements based off of genre, influences, and even sometimes something as minute as song titles, even though perhaps we should not.
This is precisely what I did leading into my first listen of Half Me’s 2023 debut album Soma. I had heard one single, that being the mighty, thundering opening blow that is Wraith, and I had already made up my mind that, although the track was good, Soma would be all “big moments” and little actual substance. I went into Half Me’s debut expecting a run-of-the-mill, by-the-numbers, generic modern metalcore record. What I got was something a bit more surprising.
While the big moments are certainly present on Soma, and are done extremely well, this album is anything but a release that bogs down in its transitional points. I was very pleasantly surprised to find this record to be extremely well-written, well-produced, and well-performed on every front. Soma does an excellent job of keeping the listener hooked on every moment. You never quite know what exactly is going to happen in the next section of a song, and that’s certainly refreshing in this modern era of metalcore.
While the album does fall into the “generic modern metalcore” umbrella, it excels in its intricacies and meticulous songwriting. This is often the problem with many albums in this niche nowadays; a band can write a great breakdown, but if all the stuff that leads you to that point is underdeveloped, then what’s the point? Soma, fortunately, does not fall victim to this issue. It’s an unpredictable, unrelenting, and unencumbered journey, with very little points of lowered interest.
The true genius of Soma lies in Half Me’s ability to seamlessly blend all of the best qualities of the current era of the metalcore genre, and smash them all together into one cohesive breakdown behemoth. This is perhaps no more transparent than on the pummeling steamroller that is Distort, where the band merges elements of Alpha Wolf’s fiery nu-core rage with brilliant electronic sections that are heavily reminiscent of Northlane’s Obsidian. Elsewhere, songs like the aforementioned opening track Wraith and recent single Ex Negativo feature some very Architects-y hooks on their respective choruses, where vocalist Christopher Zühlke shows off some impressive singing chops. It would also be criminal not to give a shout to Thrown’s Marcus Lundqvist, who lays down a fantastic verse on the latter track.
Half Me certainly wear their influences on their sleeve on Soma, but not in a way that feels cheaply done or copycat. There’s plenty of personality shining through the cracks on this record, as you can easily tell that Half Me made it a priority to make this record theirs. This is best seen where the album truly begins to hit its stride, in second half. The aggressively heavy Proxy catalyses a section of the album where several songs follow a similar structure, feeling like a kickass tug-of-war between insanely over-the-top punishing chugs and eerie, spacious intermissions. This trend continues on the groove-laden stomper that is Outbreak, which features some of the best backing ambience on the whole record, showcasing a very aliencore, chorus-y finale section with brutal chugs interlacing serene clean guitars.
However, I would be amiss not to mention the clear front runner for the best song on Soma, that being the blistering ear worm that is I Am But A Guest In Exile. This is truly the song that keeps on giving, as just when you think they can’t top a particular section, Half Me hits you with something new that sweeps you off of your feet. It starts off with an intro riff that feels like being lit on fire, and only goes up from there. Thundering drums and skin-ripping guitars carry you all the way to what is perhaps the sickest breakdown on the whole record, which starts off with a closed hi-hat groove, and ends with near-clipping 808 booms and a backing lead that sounds like a swarm of angry hornets. I could write an entire review just on this song alone, but unfortunately I must move on.
While the majority of Soma follows more heavy, breakdown-all-the-time trends, Half Me does switch things up a bit on the closing song and self-titled track Half Me. While it’s not different enough to feel completely out of place, this song changes the pace just enough to feel completely refreshing, and serves as an excellent exit to a fantastic record. It’s here where the vocals are truly front and center, and Zühlke nails every line. The magnificent production quality is also especially of highlight on the album’s closer, with intoxicating synths and melancholy melodies pushing forth to a closing section that I wanted to last for a few extra measures. All in all, a great way to end a great record.
If I must touch on a negative quality of Soma, it would have to be the lyricism. The lyrics on this record can come off quite shallow and even juvenile in some aspects, but the instances in which it’s actually noticeable aren’t nearly offensive enough to make you want to put on something else. It really is just the odd line every now and then, such as the “O-M-G” spelling line in Blacklight, or the goofy “I’m tired of listening, why should I give a fuck?” delivered later on in the same song. Lines like these are present throughout the record on occasion, but are fortunately saved by stellar vocal delivery. I do think that in the future, Half Me should tap into some depth for their lyricism, as there’s nothing present here that really makes you actually feel anything on an emotional front. Also a slight negative tick is the odd strange delivery of a line or onomatopoeic noise, such as the dopey “ugh!” in the intro of Outbreak, or the too-simply delivered pre-chorus on the otherwise great Magma Hour. These moments, however, are few and far between, and really don’t drag this record down a hell of a lot.
Regardless of these few nitpicks, there are very few debut albums in this niche of metalcore in recent years that are nearly as memorable as what Half Me have crafted here on Soma. This album just does not let up for a single moment in the majority of its run time, and the few moments that it does, it’s completely necessary for the flow of the album. As stated earlier, what I got on Soma was much different than what I expected going in, which gives me a firm kick in the ass on holding judgements against albums before giving them a fair listen. The songwriting is incredibly thorough, detailed, and nuanced, the production is perfect to-the-T, and the performances are all exquisitely delivered and downright impressive. If, for some reason, you are on the fence about Half Me leading into the release of Soma, fear not; this album is a wild fucking ride, and it’s not one that you want to miss.
For fans of: Alpha Wolf, Varials, Like Moths To Flames
‘Soma’ by Half Me is released on 17th February on Arising Empire.
Words by Hunter Hewgley