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One of the trickiest things when writing reviews is when you understand the emotion, intent, and meaning behind a record yet when it comes to the actual music on offer, there’s very little resonation between said music and yourself. Because what happens when you’ve noted and understood the honesty a band’s put forward on their release, yet you don’t vibe with the music in question but you still talk said release up? Well, quite simply, you’d be lying to yourself and you’re being grossly disingenuous to readers and the band themselves, who will most likely read the review and think that their music has really struck a chord with someone. When in actuality, it hasn’t and that’s just wrong.
And I’m not about to start lying now because the above is how I feel about Thousand Below’s debut LP, ‘The Love You Let Too Close‘.
On ‘The Love You Let Too Close‘, this Southern Californian post-hardcore band – namely their Spencer Chamberlain-worshipping vocalist and lyricist, James DeBerg – funnel some very personal demons into their record, tonally and lyrically speaking. More specifically, there are two thematic lyrical ideas at play here. The first of which is the idea that different kinds of love (supposedly, that of the toxic kind) can twist, change and deplete a person’s deepest feelings and mental fortitude, sometimes to the crushing point of completely breaking someone down emotionally; making them feel utterly lost, hopeless, and like they’re a burden upon everyone else around them. When they are, in fact, anything but. The topic of mental illness is very high up on this band’s lyrical priorities and this shows through more so in the second theme running deep through this record’s veins. Which is that of a more personal, impactful telling about the tragic suicide of a close friend (or perhaps even the suicide of a family member, maybe even a brother) of DeBerg’s – which is what I really feel is the literal motif behind these 11 songs.
Capturing this unfathomable pain and turning it into a solid piece of art; when this incredibly close-to-the-chest topic of loss is extracted is when this U.S. group creates their most meaningful musical moments.
For instance, the stripped back bridge in the eponymous track delivers one such a frenzied emotional moment, with DeBerg heartbreakingly screaming out: “March 26th, the day you left us/Broken by the love you let too close, I couldn’t see/ The pain in your heart now lives in your mother’s eyes/And now you’re gone and it’s killing me”. This is something that the later line “You couldn’t bury the pain, instead, it buried you” only drives home further, like an impassioned stake to the heart of those mourning this deep loss. The title track is a true testament to the palpable lyricism and powerful music that Thousand Below can indeed deliver, not just from their front man’s own powerful screams but for the rest of the band’s instrumentation as well.
Elsewhere, the faster-paced metalcore assault of ‘Vein‘, arguably the most aggressive song found on the whole record, sits at the root of self-medication, drug habits, and mental health in the modern world, and how this symbiotic relationship of the three often leads the worse off in our society to taking their own lives. Case in point, the dark opening lines of “The substances are killing us and we’re blind/To the failed state of mind, taking over, weakened/Suicidal medication in our blood”.
It’s a very heavy theme matched so wonderfully with a very heavy song. (Even if it scarily sounds like something that our very own Polaris would have done on their most recent record, ‘The Mortal Coil‘, just minus all of the cool technical guitar parts). One of the album’s most cathartic tellings arrives near this song’s end with the line “I lost my friend, myself and my lover” which then eventually changes into “I lost my friend, myself, and my brother to the poison”. It’s an effective lyrical slip that adds real weight to the love and loss this record often deals with.
Another standout song, ‘Sleepless, despite oozing a saccharine sound that had “lead single” written all over it from the very second it was conceived, shows off a better flair for dynamics in its gripping verses. Which then channels real strength and impact into the uplifting and hopeful clean choruses that follow. Even if said choruses are as cliché as fucking possible. Poppy choruses aside, however, the desperate thoughts from DeBerg’s innermost mind come clear and clean with the first verse, painstakingly stating: “I’ve been caught up shaking alone/I hate these sleepless nights/Spending too much time in the shade but I’m hoping I’ll be alright”. Which then gets taken to an even darker extreme of mental illness in the song’s breakdown: “I’ve got this shadow hanging over me, source of the misery/Do you see me going into the gray/Shadow hanging over me, source of the misery/Just take me away…”. When DeBerg really, really wants to, he can create some truly meaningful lyrics. Lyrics that are truly free from the shackles of their genres overdone norms and clichés.
While ‘The Love You Let Too Close‘ definitely has some strong high points, some of these songs – ‘Sinking Me‘, ‘No Place Like You‘ and ‘Tradition‘ (to name a few) – fall flat because there’s simply no originality to be had in this band’s sound. Which I feel undermines the real emotion spread over this new release. Being original is near impossible these days, yes, but that doesn’t mean you cannot or should not strive for it!
Furthermore, while the record is consistent in sound and tone, it’s also consistently similar to the point of detriment. See, Thousand Below more often than not channel the now dated post-hardcore sounds of the previous decade to a dizzying degree. Think the sound of older groups like Before Their Eyes, early blessthefall, Eyes Set To Kill, Hopes Die Last, Confide, Our Last Night, and of course, the always mighty and universally influential Underoath – who very few bands can hold a candle to.
Even when Thousand Below does create more varied moments in this record, their often tossed out just as quickly as they arrived. The dark, moody, minor-key intro of ‘Follow Me Home‘ sounds like a long lost Being As An Ocean song pre-‘Waiting For Morning To Come‘ era. Yet it’s soon ditched for the band’s go-to post-hardcore/metalcore sound that they’ve been beating you over the head with for the past twenty or so minutes. The post-rocky clean guitar chords that announce the intro of ‘Tradition‘ or the slick delay-ridden riff that begins ‘Never Here‘ are both soon swapped out for the same old distorted progressions, post-hardcore sound and structure, and the genre’s typical poppy vocal harmonies. Moreover, what could have become a grand, sweeping, emotive piece with the intimate start of piano and cleans vocals on ‘No Place Like You‘ soon goes back to the band’s usual sound.
The one moment where this group expunges their normal sound for something different, that then works in tandem with their wider genre, is the wonderfully ambient and serene mid-section of the record’s final song, ‘Into The Gray‘; creating a terrific jumping off point for the song’s utterly massive climax. It works damn well too but by this point, it’s too little, too late.
Thousand Below do have real potential to become one of the bigger bands in their ever-growing but albeit eerily crowded style. They just need to push beyond what all of their peers are doing now and what their key influencers did so many years ago because God knows that this sound is getting even more dead and buried than it already is. Thousand Below is capable of creating passionate, genuinely affecting music, but they’d also do well to instil further variation into their music because while they’re pushing this generic sound on their debut LP, there are countless other bands out there all doing the very same thing. While also consistent in tone and lyrics, this LP is also consistent in sound, but to the point where things merely drag on the longer it runs. While I fully understand what these guys are getting across on this album, and while I understand the pained feelings and complex thoughts and emotions being put forward in most of these songs, much of this record’s actual songs and music did little to impress.
Oh and that “wolf in the sea” lyrical metaphor from the song of the same name was fucking terrible and these guys out right stole a riff from Paramore’s ‘Decode‘ for the intro of ‘Carry The Weight‘. Cheers.
1. Sinking Me
3. Never Here
5. Carry The Weight
6. The Love You Let Too Close
7. Follow Me Home
8. The Wolf And The Sea
10. No Place Like You
11. Into The Gray
‘The Love You Let Too Close’ is out now via Rise Records.