By now, we all know that when there’s new The Acacia Strain music on the horizon, it will never be quite what we expect (in a great way, of course). Over the past several years, the band has experimented significantly not only with their musical output, but also the manner in which it is released. 2019’s doom metal-adjacent It Comes In Waves was released all at once as a surprise drop, as it was meant to be listened to as one half-hour experience rather than a traditional album. Several months later, The Acacia Strain began to release the more traditional but still excellent Slow Decay in small segments over the course of several months, finally unveiling the full product in the summer of 2020. Despite the unorthodox record release strategy, the band has still managed to put out full, always complete sounding projects that never disappoint. This is exactly why when their brand new album Step Into The Light, which has a runtime that barely exceeds the twenty minute mark, was announced in February of 2023, many fans were unconvinced that there wasn’t more to the story than the band was letting on. In this case, the fandom was indeed correct; a month later, The Acacia Strain officially announced a second album, with the three-track, forty minute long Failure Will Follow arriving the same day as the previously announced project. While all of this is fantastic news, the question still remains; will The Acacia Strain maintain their extremely high level of quality that they have made a constant over their twenty-year career? Don’t be an idiot, of course they will!
Now, before I dive into listing every single reason why both of these albums are flawless, let me explain my strategy for reviewing this massive amalgamation of chaos. Before hearing the albums, I had fully planned on doing two separate reviews, one for each album. However, after listening, I just can’t bring myself to talk about one album without talking about the other, due to an overwhelming feel of cohesiveness over the course of both records. While very different in overall musical style, the themes and emotions created with both Step Into The Light and Failure Will Follow are very much one in the same, feeling much more like two interconnected experiences rather than two separate entities. Both albums address a world of death, desolation, and despair in the face of an unavoidable and inevitable doom, with Step Into The Light expressing pure, unadulterated rage, and Failure Will Follow feeling much more hopeless, somber, and apocalyptic. They’re two very different, but very connected reactions to the visceral destruction of our world and society, and are so thematically intertwined that it’s really not possible to view them as two completely independent albums. Thus, for this review, I’ll be covering any and all material that The Acacia Strain will be releasing on May 12th all in one review. Cool? Alright, let’s jump in.
Step Into The Light sees The Acacia Strain embracing the more hardcore / grindcore-adjacent side of their sound, packing ten songs worth of venomous riffage, cutting screams, and bone-breaking breakdowns all into a blazing fast 24 minute run time. I’ve said it a million times, and I’ll say it once more; this side of TAS is their best, and this album only continues to prove that correct. This thing is the definition of all killer no filler, leaving you with not a single second to breathe from start to finish. There isn’t a singular moment of wasted time on this entire record, with every single guitar riff and drum fill feeling like it’s exactly where it needs to be. Nothing feels out of place or there just to be there; the songwriting is thorough, cathartic, and meticulous. It’s hard to think of a single flaw to be pointed out here, as quite frankly, there really are none. This is The Acacia Strain at their very best, a hard feat to achieve over twenty years into a band’s career.
The album opens with the crushing FLOURISHING, which feels like it was written simply to make people forget all about the existence of Carbomb. This song will feel right at home on the opening end of the band’s live set, and is sure to send flurries of show goers to the emergency room.
From there, we are flung straight into the perfectly evil sounding CALF’S BLOOD, featuring swarming, cataclysmic guitars, stomping kicks, and a wonderfully sick finale riff rather than a breakdown. This album is full of formula shakeups and surprises that fans won’t be expecting, all of which are nailed perfectly to a T. Whether it be the blast beats, tremolo picking, or grind elements, The Acacia Strain certainly did not shy away from throwing wrenches into their typical writing structures with this album, and yet, it all still sounds very much like The Acacia Strain.
TEETH OF THE CURSED DOG is a particularly very TAS-sounding song; not in a way that sounds tired or samey, but rather in a welcoming and comfortable manner. The song opens with slow-burning, gut wrenching chugs and pounding chinas, before building speed in a crescendoing build up that leads straight into a momentous breakdown that isn’t entirely too far away from something you might have heard on 2012’s Death Is The Only Mortal. This song marks the beginning of a three track run that is perhaps the best in the band’s entire career, with the following two tracks, OPEN WOUND and SINKHOLE being the two best songs on the record by far.
The fiery OPEN WOUND leaves you feeling like you’ve just had a gallon of gasoline poured over your head and set ablaze, with blazing-fast fight riffs, chaotic, booming drums, and an immensely-satisfying, gargantuan breakdown finale that will leave you with your mouth on the floor. Every single nanosecond of this track is perfectly written, incredibly well performed, and masterfully composed, and it will truly be in contention for their best song of all time; and yet, there’s still one song on this album which I believe to be even better.
SINKHOLE is just a flawless track, and that’s it. Seriously, there is not a form of this song that could have existed that would have been any better than what we got here. Everything about it is perfect. The track opens with a solo closed hi hat groove, before introducing a buttery-smooth bass lick and then proceeding to erupt into volcanic ash, spitting flames into every direction possible. The slow, grinding guitars leave you feeling like you’re walking through an apocalyptic wasteland with no life in sight, all before beating you senseless with three unbelievable breakdowns in a row. Every time you think the song can’t get any better, it just does. Every section and switch up leaves you trying to catch your breath, leaving you not a single second to recoup. This is an instant classic for The Acacia Strain, and I demand it be treated as such by fans upon release.
Touching on performances and songwriting specifically, every single member of the band is firing on all cylinders throughout both of these albums. Vocalist Vincent Bennett lays down some of his best vocal deliveries all over this thing, with booming growls, screeching highs, and slicing screams all improving greatly upon those of the past. Specifically, Bennett showcases his ability to transition swiftly from frantic screeches to burning growls on the hell that is the album’s closer NONE OF US ASKED TO BE HERE. The dude has managed to get better and better with each release over the course of twenty years, truly coming into his prime with these records.
Guitarist Devin Shidaker also provides some of his best output here, constructing a grouping of what I believe to be some of the best songs he has ever written for the band. CHAIN and IS THIS REALLY HAPPENING feature some of the best written guitar work in the band’s history, with the latter specifically opening up with an absolutely kickass riff that is certainly a contender for riff of the year. However, it’s the overall wildly-great and extremely consistent songwriting that is present throughout the run time of both albums that is the best example of Shidaker’s abilities. The fact that these two albums that are entirely sonically different could easily hold up as one sensical piece of music is mind boggling, and it is all incredibly well done and perfected.
This seems like a good place to finally begin addressing the second album that the band will be releasing, the mountainous mammoth that is Failure Will Follow. In short, this album sounds like the soundtrack of the fucking apocalypse; the pale horse summoning the death of the human race. Sonically, it’s a setting that we’re not entirely unfamiliar with from The Acacia Strain, but this album seems to take the ideas formed in those past works and fine tune them into the sound that the band has really wanted to put out for the past decade.
Catalyzing with cosmic keys and spacious synth, pillar of salt is, once again (I know I’m sounding like a broken record at this point), an easy contender for the best Acacia Strain song of all time. The track makes use of every single second of its nearly twelve minute run time, feeling more like an auditory horror movie than a song. Kicking off the instrumentation with an opening section that isn’t entirely far off from themes we’ve heard on 2014’s Observer, you start to settle in, as you think you know what’s coming. I’m here to tell you that you absolutely do not.
The song then drops out into a nihilistic spoken word sample, delivering a sonnet of hopelessness, before thrusting you straight back into vicious hellfire and tolling bells. The bell sample that lingers just behind the drop F drones in this section really add a world of despair to the song’s tone, and makes the music hit even that much harder. The song continues, driving you through a highway of fire and brimstone, before landing at its concluding sections. Sombre clean guitars and spacious, chugging riffs carry you straight into what I can only describe as one of the greatest breakdowns in heavy music history, that of which I will not spoil too much of, as it needs to be experienced solely by the listener through the album. The world-stopping finale rounds off what is truly one of the best songs this band has ever written, or might ever write.
The aptly-titled 17 minute-long bog walker sees the album take a different, less overtly-heavy direction than its predecessor, being chock-full of more traditional doom metal guitars, pitched screams, and even some Viking-esque singing sections that will surely take you by pleasant surprise. The song lingers for quite some time with these tones, but never feels as if it’s overstaying it’s welcome, rather simply showcasing different angles of the band that we have never seen before.
This is all until the music drops out around the song’s halfway point, and we are introduced to another spoken word sample. From there, the song takes a brief left turn into a darker, angrier space, before tornadoing straight back into doom-metal territory. The song is long, and can at times show less diversity than it’s two counterparts, but it’s a fantastic showing of brand new, fresh sound that the band has never produced, and it absolutely works.
Finally, Failure Will Follow concludes with the abrasively heavy basin of vows, which crushes you into the dirt for nearly the entirety of its slightly-shorter ten minute run time. With fuzzy, chainsaw chugs and primal growls, this track showcases the heavier side of the band’s doomy sound in the best way; by ripping you to shreds with ten minutes of soul-tearing drones and visceral breakdowns with only a short section of clean guitars leaving you any room to breathe.
The song even reintroduces a prominent breakdown from Step Into The Light, which I will not spoil, allowing it to shine in a different stylistic perspective. Then, just as quickly as it started, the album concludes just as it began, with haunting synths and ambience waving you goodbye as you count down the final seconds.
If this review seemed like it was all over the place, it’s because over the course of these two albums, there is such an overwhelming amount of ground to cover all in a singular piece. And yet, it’s all so interconnected and intertwined that it’s not possible to separate these two experiences, as together, they function as the best piece of music that The Acacia Strain has ever written. I made myself sit on this review for quite some time to assure I’m not just overhyping these albums for myself, and yet, I still firmly believe that this is the band’s best work by a goddamn mile. Every second of music is extremely refined, masterfully written, and perfectly placed, and I would not change a single thing about it. From the beginning of Step Into The Light to the ending notes of Failure Will Follow, The Acacia Strain has given us nothing short of a perfect experience with these albums, adding yet another sparkling, shining milestone to what is already an incredible catalogue of music. The band continues to dominate creatively, showing us nothing but perfection
For fans of: END, Nails, Bell Witch, Black Tongue
‘Step Into The Light’ and ‘Failure Will Follow’ by The Acacia Strain are both released on 12th May on Rise Records.
Words by Hunter Hewgley