For Fans Of
Left Behind – the flannel and hatchet-loving hardcore band – are a group that I’ve had my eyes on for a few years now. Their previous material was interesting, and showed real potential, but was ultimately bogged down by piss poor “raw” production and a lack of variety in the songwriting departments. This certain production has become an unusual trend in the metallic hardcore genre these past few years, and I can’t say I understand why that’s the case; to put it simply, it just sounds terrible. I understand that other bands like Sanction and Chamber have been releasing records in this style to attempt to emulate the sound of their live performances (and the older artists and aged records that influence them) but nonetheless, it makes these releases nearly unlistenable for myself. Left Behind fell victim to this trend with ‘Blessed by the Burn,’ but as stated, I saw great potential in them with that particular LP. So, here we are with a brand new Left Behind album at the tail end of 2019, and I’m excited to say that I’m finally on board with this band.
While ‘No One Goes to Heaven’ follows the mixing techniques of their previous material, this record sounds much more polished and is more well-put-together than anything else in their catalog thus far. The vocals sound crisper and thus more powerful and indomitable; the guitars are excellent-sounding in just how dark, low and massive they feel; and that filthy goddamn bass tone sounds like something pulled straight out of the seventh circle of hell. This all considered, they nailed the overall sound and aesthetic of their brooding metallic hardcore, but did they nail the song-writing material? For the most part, I’d say so!
From the blistering chaos of opener ‘Hell Rains from Above’ to the hypnotizing drones of ‘What Makes You Hurt,’ this album is pummeling, punishing, and filled with savage touches of doom and groove. At times, it blasts by at a breakneck pace, and at other moments, it is the very definition of a slow burn. Tracks like the disgusting ‘Throwing Stones’ and the aforementioned ‘Hell Rains from Above’ showcase the band’s strong ability to spawn guitar riffs and bass grooves that keep you hooked with each and every note change. It’s moments like these that make this album something great, something so memorable, which is a specific problem that plagued past releases for myself, personally.
This time around, Left Behind wanted to make damn sure that you don’t write them off, and I’d say they absolutely have my full attention now. Elsewhere, tracks like ‘God Calls Out’ carry a seething doom influence that works very well with the sound of ‘No One Goes to Heaven.’ These types of songs make a consolidated effort to prove that Left Behind are a little more than just your average metallic hardcore band and that they aren’t just a one-trick pony here. ‘Shadow of Fear’ also rides this wave, with its boiling, despair-filled chugs, and sharp drum grooves. These doom-metal influences pop up often throughout the album, and almost reminds me of the sludgy and latest Acacia Strain record, ‘Gravebloom,’ which makes sense as the two bands tour together often and are good friends.
Particularly noteworthy on ‘No One Goes to Heaven’ is the relationship between the guitar and bass tones, which crescendo into a buzzing, distorted mass of black tar that oozes grit and grime. This particularly shines best on punishingly heavy numbers like ‘Smoke and Pain’ and ‘The Mirror‘ – one of my personal favorites off this new beast. The mind-melting tones, mixed with the band’s phenomenal ability to write ridiculously catchy guitar licks and bass grooves, make for a huge highlight on what is already a solid record. Another standout performance is that of vocalist Zach Hatfield, who delivers a cacophony of cathartic screams and furious growls on tracks like ‘Peeling Wax,’ where he performs alongside the always-magnificent Matt Honeycutt of Kublai Khan.
Another fantastic element to Zach’s performance is his lyricism, which ranges from deeply personal to utterly pissed-at-the-world. Lines like “sometimes I miss the pain because then I knew I hadn’t buried anything. Sometimes I miss the hurt because then I knew it couldn’t get any worse” (‘Throwing Stones’) particularly connect because you can feel the pain behind each word delivered. ‘Staring at the Sun’ speaks about death and the difficulty of letting go of loved ones long passed, with gut-wrenching lines like “I’m not a man of god, but I started to pray, just hoping in that place that she’s okay.” (Talking about the death of his girlfriend after years of abuse from her father that spurned on ‘Blessed by the Burn.’) Elsewhere, Hatfield speaks on his troubles with religion, bellowing these downright angry lines like “I asked so many times for help from above. I breathed it in, now I can’t get enough. No one goes to heaven.” LP #4 for this band displays brutal honesty and personal growth via its lyricism – Left Behind leave no stone unturned.
As much as I enjoy ‘No One Goes to Heaven,’ there are still a few issues I have with this record and the band as a whole. For one, this album still falls victim to a lack of variety, although it is far more diverse than that previous effort. While odd songs stand out, at times it can also be difficult to tell when one track ends and another begins. Much of the album just feels like a single long, brooding hardcore track, and that gets old fairly quickly. Some added variation spliced into Left Behind’s mix next time around other than just putting a breakdown here or there, or slapping down the occasional tempo or time signature change, could do wonders for their sound.
Another gripe I have with ‘No One Goes to Heaven’ is when it seems to get stuck in the mud for a moment, with clumsy tempo changes and nonsensical transitions that almost destroy the momentum of a song. There’s nothing worse than when you’re really feeling a song’s groove, and then it just turns everything on its head and transforms into something completely different. This can really fuck with the flow, and drag down its replay value too.
The final issue I take with ‘No One Goes to Heaven’ is its painfully long 44-minute run-time, which often doesn’t work too well for this style of music. Some songs towards the end start to drag out the record’s length and probably should have been left as B-sides. Particularly, the last two tracks ‘Prisoner of Mind’ and ‘What Makes You Hurt’ just don’t seem to quite have the same musical purpose and spark that the earlier tracks possessed. Whilst the latter’s drones are a good point of change and are admittedly done well, being a four-minute-long drone piece that simply fizzles out and dies without any warning doesn’t add much to the album’s quality.
Despite its couple flaws, ‘No One Goes to Heaven’ serves as a catalyst for my own deeper enjoyment of what Left Behind do, and it makes me very happy that I gave it the proper chance it deserves. This album is a maelstrom of anger and grief, writhing with both power and inner turmoil. Each instrument intertwines with one another so well that it feels like a living, breathing, hulking monster destroying everything in its path. The guitars are low and burning, the bass is apocalyptic and doomy, the vocals are filled with unmatched vitriol and energy, and the drums are booming and groove-laden. This particular brand of hardcore music is either absolutely atrocious or ridiculously addictive, with little-to-no in between. Fortunately for Left Behind, they have definitely found their way into the positive end of the scale, and will hopefully continue to grow from here. Watch out for this band in the next looming decade.
Hell Rains from Above
Eternity of Empty
Shadow of Fear
Staring at the Sun
God Calls Out
Smoke and Pain
Outside the Body
Prisoner of Mind
What Makes You Hurt
‘No One Goes To Heaven’ is out now: