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What struck me about ‘Eternal Nightmare‘ is that it’s not a step forward, but also not a step backward. No ground has been lost with this new Chelsea Grin release, but fresh ground for the American deathcore band hasn’t been broken either. It’s almost like the album is weirdly caught between real progression and mere stagnation. Honestly, it’s just kinda there; neither terrible nor great in any sense.
Even the inclusion of new vocalist and ex-Lorna Shore frontman, Tom Barber, doesn’t mean much of a change for the band’s sound. Well, other than a new face in promos and a slightly clearer, more enunciated vocal style leading the charge. While Tom now holding the mic doesn’t result in creating a totally brand new Chelsea Grin, he does gel with their sonic mould perfectly on ‘Eternal Nightmare‘. While it may not be super different in tone and sound for the Utah outfit, this album is an important release for other reasons. Namely, it marks the first Chelsea Grin record with Tom and the first without any OG members in the current line-up, what with longtime vocalist Alex Koehler and guitarist Jacob Harmond departing earlier in 2018. Original members or not, this new era of Chelsea Grin is definitely passable stuff and it could’ve turned out much worse. (And I swear that’s about as back-handed as my compliments will get here).
Beyond some very expected songwriting though, let me state right away that the actual performances here are undeniably fuckin’ strong. The pinching, squealing guitar physicality from Stephen Rutishauser is through the roof, with some awesome solos and scales utilized (‘Nobody Listened‘, ‘Across The Earth‘). As well as plenty of filthy drop G and drop E riffs that’ll make you do this face (see: ‘Dead Rose‘, ‘Hostage‘). Moreover, this is the best tone Stephen’s had since he joined in 2015, while seeing him step up to the plate in both the rhythm and lead roles. Drummer Pablo Viveros is still the band’s secret weapon behind the kit and his backing screams team up with Tom’s for a solid vocal duo. (For real, massive props to any drummer who plays and screams at the same time). As for Tom himself, as I’ve said before, he’s a perfect fit for Chelsea Grin moving forward. While I could easily see Ben Duerr (Shadow Of Intent) or Nick Arthur (Molotov Solution) replacing Alex, Tom was and is a logical and fitting replacement, and his caustic screams – highs, mids or lows – peel the skin right off your skull. Sadly, the really solid performances here did not quite follow through to awesome song-writing; a distinction that I feel gets lost in a lot of reviews in general nowadays.
So great performances aside, when it comes right down to it, you gotta expect the expected with ‘Eternal Nightmare‘. Those volatile vocals, nasty down-tuned riffs, and crippling breakdowns are all in their usual places. As are those underlying melodic instrumentals (choir samples, keyboard runs), eerie backing ambiance, and the subtle use of electronics and not-so-subtle samples. Ergo, at the end of the day, this is just more or less your typical Chelsea Grin album; stupidly brutal, generic for deathcore, theatrical and orchestral at times, yet also ignorantly heavy too. After all, this is a Chelsea Grin album so that means plenty of genre clichés packaged in tight. Like the “that’s so 2014” ‘bleugh’ heard on ‘Across The Earth‘, the overall song structures, the tunings, the pit-call of “GO!” at one point on the album, and the angsty “fuck you’s” of ‘Limbs‘.
Though given the hefty member changes underwent this year, it’s understandable to see the band grabbing onto their roots and holding steadfast; a smarter move than drastically up-heaving their go-to style. But it’s also an incredibly safe move too. As while I’d say that the band knows their core audience inside and out, that’s a lame-ass excuse for an indeed talented band sticking within their same old tired lane. Songs like ‘Dead Rose‘, ‘See You Soon‘, the aforementioned ‘Limbs‘, ‘Outliers‘ and ‘Hostage‘ are amongst these more straightforward yet generic, “classic” Chelsea Grin cuts. They’re songs clearly written as fun heavy tracks for the band themselves to perform and for fans to mosh out to and headbang along with. A simple and noble enough goal and they’re decent enough songs, truth be told. ‘Scent Of Evil‘ encapsulates this balls-out, swirling deathcore ethos all the way through too. In the same sense, ‘930 AM‘ is all about blasting rhythmic speed and pummelling breakdown intensity, yet it’s so short that it works well and doesn’t go up its own asshole like I tend to do. It’s deathcore as deathcore simply does these days, but Chelsea Grin has made it all mostly tolerable.
For a lot of die-hard supporters, this new LP will come across as a purist approach. Even if the grumbling of Alex’s departure lingers for months yet. To others, it’ll be a disappointing regression from what past releases were touching upon, including 2016’s djentier ‘Self Inflicted‘. For me, and as someone awfully tired of genres like deathcore, ‘Eternal Nightmare‘ is a direct, “straight for the throat” album. Which is it’s one real saving grace. For with an extra 10-15 minutes on the clock and a few more songs added to the track-listing, this thing could’ve buckled under its own damn weight. As I’ve said before about bands like Wraith, brevity is a gift in this genre, and that’s indeed a strength of this new Chelsea Grin record. Clocking in at 36 minutes, it thankfully doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. Of course, this run-time doesn’t instantly make ‘Eternal Nightmare‘ some magnum opus. However, it does make it a more digestible and gratifying release than other, weaker deathcore records that subjugate listeners to over an hour’s worth of blasting fills and obscure lyrics about ancient extraterrestrial life forms. Yeah, no thank you.
Whilst there’s little ambition here, I don’t think that’s fully a bad thing. As the band isn’t pretending to be anything that they’re not, nor acting “holier than thou” on ‘Eternal Nightmare‘. It’s more so the quartet proving to fans that with a new face and voice fronting the band, they’ve still “got it”. (Whether “it” is any good will come down to how much you prefer new or old Chelsea Grin).
That being said, one thing I admired about Chelsea Grin was them expanding their overly typical deathcore arsenal with more melodic and orchestral arrangements. We see these “expansions” come to small fruition on ‘Eternal Nightmare‘ with the theatrical third track, ‘Across The Earth‘. Via samples of smouldering bonfires, soft minor keys starting up under down-pitched spoken word lines talking of the “dying flames across the earth“, this particular song has more dynamic than most other Chelsea Grin tracks tend to display. It’s a dynamic that I wish they’d strike upon more, as it lends power to their songs when they morph these quieter, delicate moments into their usual breakdown-heavy, deathcore territory. Much like how this very song moves from poetically humble beginnings into that brutally epic “I watched humanity die” outro. Excusing it’s ‘bleughs’, ‘Across The Earth‘ is a great piece that displays the high potential this band could one day reach across an entire album. The same goes for the Nine Inch Nails-like electronics on the intro and outro of the violently short but sweet ‘The Wolf‘; perhaps showing the smaller experimentations Chelsea Grin wish to write more of.
Which is the depressing thing about this album: Chelsea Grin seems to want to shed more of their shell but older releases have painted current and future records into a corner of having to be this generic brand of deathcore. Thing is, Chelsea Grin are one of those bands that I feel really do have a fucking great record or two in them – deathcore or not. Now that they’ve (hopefully) gotten this first awkward step out of the way as a four-piece with ‘Eternal Nightmare‘, after put being so heavily on the ropes this year, the best might be to come. Well, maybe.
Look, just like any other review of this new Chelsea Grin album, you’ve probably read these exact kinds of thoughts before. Just as how you’ve definitely heard this kind of deathcore album before; whether from Chelsea Grin or from another band in the genre. So, when it comes to ‘Eternal Nightmare’, most fans will be heading right to the front as everyone else trots off the bar for a drink and to check their phones. With a new line-up, though, I’m hoping that Chelsea Grin can one day soon pull me away from those sidelines and down right into the mosh. For now, this record is fine.
Across The Earth
See You Soon
Scent Of Evil
‘Eternal Nightmare’ is out now via Rise Records.