For Fans Of
One thing that this reviewer could never really agree with – or even understand – was how music critics, fans and vociferous YouTube commenters alike, insisted on categorising The Acacia Strain as a ‘deathcore’ band. Now, granted, the quintet is heavier than a bag of swinging bricks and they’ve always maintained a reliance on perfecting the art of the breakdown. Yet nothing in their back catalogue, stretching across the last fifteen years and eight full-length albums, screams ‘death metal meets hardcore’. And apparently, this is a sentiment shared by vocalist and charming misanthrope Vincent Bennett, who in an interview with Metal Sucks in 2008, responded to the ‘deathcore’ tag thusly: “I have said it a couple of times: deathcore is the new nu-metal. You see the same kids and the same ethic. It sucks. And if anyone calls us ‘deathcore’ then I might do something very bad to them. We aren’t deathcore. We are heavy.” Heavy indeed. Also, another notable tidbit from that same interview: “Parkway Drive is bigger than Jesus.” FACT!
Originating from the Massachusetts metalcore scene in the early 2000’s, The Acacia Strain had more in common with other like-minded breakdown aficionados like Bury Your Dead and On Broken Wings, than mid-decade deathcore upstarts like Job For A Cowboy or Suicide Silence. This reviewer fondly remembers listening to ‘Car Bomb/Brown Noise’ on a Trial & Error Records Hardcore Metal sampler back in the Myspace peak of 2006. It was the perfect mix of bowel-shattering bottom end and uber-aggressive hardcore, whilst also being decidedly more visceral than the ‘honey-and-vinegar’ metalcore approach adopted by many upcoming acts at the time. Arguably, the group’s time with Prosthetic Records yielded the material most loved by long-time fans, with releases such as 2006’s ‘The Dead Walk’ and (in this reviewer’s humble opinion) the band’s magnum opus, 2008’s apocalyptic ‘Continent’.
Unfortunately, the departure of lead guitarist and principal songwriter Daniel ‘DL’ Laskiewicz in 2013, heralded an inevitable drop in quality, with Bennett now remaining the sole original member in the band’s line-up. The switch from Prosthetic Records, to a new and current home with Rise Records, also signalled a major stylistic shift towards a more djent-flavoured, 8-string found on releases like 2012’s ‘Death Is The Only Mortal’ and 2014’s lacklustre ‘Coma Witch’. And now, in 2017, The Acacia Strain appear to live and die by one motto: namely the doom metal ideal of ‘Tune Low. Play Slow.’ And nowhere is this more prevalent, than on their eighth studio effort, ‘Gravebloom’.
As opener’s go, ‘Worthless’ does its best to set the album’s tone, with eerie soundscapes and cavernous drums offset by an ominous audio sample in the bridge, before the track’s intro is repeated once more. Furious jams like the bludgeoning ‘Plague Doctor’ and the Raymond Chandler-inspired, double-time mayhem of ‘Big Sleep’ help to keep things interesting, with the latter track featuring a notable guest spot from Kublai Khan frontman Matt Honeycutt.
Lyrically, however, ‘Gravebloom’ is decidedly underwhelming, with Bennett’s overly repetitive vocal phrasing failing to deliver any iconic or stand-out lines as the band’s principal doomsayer (try and find a line on this record more visually caustic than “Van flip times a thousand” … We’ll wait). On ‘Bitter Pill’ Bennett declares “I am the butcher/Everything I see I kill,” against a slam-filled mid-section, while ‘Dark Harvest’ rocks a blitzkrieg of drum fills, rhythm slams and a minute dose of vocal venom (“Your leaders are morally bankrupt”), quickly removed of any potency by the sound of crickets and a superfluous slow-mo breakdown.
There are brief moments of variation and progressive flirtations to be found, but nowhere near enough to allow ‘Gravebloom’ to retain any distinct characteristics against The Acacia Strain‘s back catalogue. ‘Abyssal Depths’ is book-ended by melancholic instrumental passages and ‘Calloused Mouth’ accentuates the djent stylings of lead guitarist Devin Shidaker (ex-Oceano) and new rhythm guitarist Tom ‘The Hammer’ Smith, reminiscent of the bleak tone the band cultivated on ‘Coma Witch’. ‘Walled City’ lets the guitars creep in slowly, keeping sync with a churning riff before fading out to 90 seconds of droning sludge. Album closer ‘Cold Gloom’ sports hints of flashy lead work from Shidaker, yet ultimately drags for most of its near-ten-minute run-time, still coming up mercifully short when compared to the 27 bloody minutes (!) of aural-marathon ‘Observer’ from the group’s last record.
The most obvious assessment to be made with ‘Gravebloom’ is this: if you’ve heard ‘Death Is The Only Mortal’ and ‘Coma Witch,’ then this new album will contain exactly zero surprises for you. It’s very much a case of ‘rinse; repeat’ and ‘Move along folks, nothing to see here’. Now, that’s not to say that ‘Gravebloom’ is a bad record because objectively, it isn’t. However, it is just another example of The Acacia Strain sticking firmly to their tried and true formula, resulting in the band taking absolutely no risks in the process.
- Plague Doctor
- Bitter Pill
- Big Sleep
- Abyssal Depths
- Model Citizen
- Calloused Mouth
- Dark Harvest
- Walled City
- Cold Gloom
‘Gravebloom’ is available now through Rise Records, and in various physical/digital formats here. Now, for a true blast for the past, the video below is one of my personal favourite tracks from The Acacia Strain: ‘Smoke Ya Later’ off their ‘3750’ record. This shit is now 13 years old, and that makes me feel ancient. Fuck. (Also, those handclaps!)