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These days, everyone seems to have an opinion about The Acacia Strain. On their last couple releases, they’ve slowly transitioned into something of a super down-tuned doomy hardcore act, whilst not being fully accepted by either the hardcore community nor doom metal community. I myself have even had trouble with this band in the past; going from not liking them at all, to then thinking they were only okay, to even considering them to be my favorite band at one point in time. Truth is, Acacia Strain have always been a hard band to fully pin down, and the release of the brand new short concept record, ‘It Comes In Waves,’ has certainly not made that any easier. This surprise seven-track release sees The Acacia Strain taking hold of the doom metal capabilities they have always had lurking beneath the surface, making something great in the process of bringing those elements into the light. While I adore everything this band has created since bringing guitarist/songwriter Devin Shidaker into the fold in 2013, I have to admit that ‘It Comes In Waves’ might just be the greatest edition of The Acacia Strain so far.
‘It Comes In Waves’ is a dark, sludgy, and grimey chemical fire of an album that slowly creeps along the edges of what can be considered doom, while also giving the listener a good punch in the gut when necessary via deathcore and hardcore sensibilities. It is without a doubt their most experimental release thus far, with every member taking new strides into uncharted territory. The album opens with ominous keys, over-distorted guitars and eerie female singing of ‘Our,’ before it sets down on a wickedly chaotic and mind-melting destructive path of riffs, pinches, pulverizing fast-paced drums, and Vincent Bennett’s bellowing growls. It maintains that breakneck energy for a good minute or so until it transforms into this borderline evil-sounding drone that puts the heavier sections on say, ‘Observer,’ to shame.
These droning sections are a common musical motif on this record, one of the most noticeable changes that Acacia has implemented here. It seems all of the same ol’ breakdowns, which the band has always been particularly known for, for better or for worse, have been swapped out now these groove-filled, atmospheric drone metal passage instead. Interesting new parts that will still satisfy that breakdown itch for many. One of the finest examples of this is the ending section to second track, ‘Only,’ which solidifies the grand and doomy atmosphere of the album, as it burns slowly and devours all in its path.
Much of the experimentation on ‘It Comes In Waves’ comes from the improved and wider-scope of the guitar work, which is groovier and more intricate than it has ever been. Little additions like the creepy, delayed guitar tones in ‘Sin,’ the siren-esque lead guitars in ‘Was,’ or the haunting, reverb-y clean sections that move during the epic eight-minute closer, ‘Names,’ it all really keep this album diverse and interesting sounding, while the huge groovy chugs that Acacia love are all still present. Like in the hulking, stupidly-heavy movements of ‘Giving,’ as just one example. And don’t worry, the band still loves using a good sample or two!
Another noticeable step up on ‘It Comes In Waves’ is the terrific vocal performance of Vincent, who tries a whirlwind of new vocal techniques on this project. From the deafening growls of ‘Our,’ to the black metal-like screeches and breathy whispers on ‘Sin,’ the deathcore grunts and wheezing squeals on ‘Them,’ the spoken-word on ‘Names,’ to the chanting, Viking-like pitched screams on ‘Was,’ Bennett is breaching new territory all over this damn thing. Yet the great thing about that is that he really succeeds on all fronts, nailing his various performances down to the tee. Everything Vincent touched on this album turned to gold, and it’s a great thing to see who was, honestly, a previously stagnant and monotoned vocalist pushing the limits of their capabilities further than ever before. He even brought back his ever-excellent highs on ‘It Comes In Waves,’ which have not been prevalent in The Acacia Strain’s music since 2012’s ‘Death Is The Only Mortal.’ The true success of this record, however, comes from the excellent ways in which the band ties all of these songs together into one long, slow-burning, epic tale.
In a recent interview, vocalist Vincent spoke about how this album is really meant to be played front to back as one long song akin to ‘Coma Witch’s 28-minute long finale, ‘Observer,’ and that really shows in the transitions and tempo changes from song-to-song over the course of ‘It Comes In Waves.’ Individually, songs like ‘Was’ feel like a real story being told, but then on the larger scale, these songs intertwine better than any other track flow in the band’s history. While it doesn’t have many “cooldown” sections as ‘Observer’ did, I’d say that it all works extremely well as an excellent follow-up, and might even be a better version of what they tried to accomplish with that particular song. This concept becomes even clearer when analyzing the lyricism of the record.
‘It Comes In Waves’ is a narrative-heavy record. It tells the tale of a man coming to terms with the newfound knowledge that not only are divine beings real, but they are malevolent and view humanity as pieces in their games. The story that unravels depicts dark imagery of nameless beings who use our lives for their own amusement, and cause us nothing but pain and misery, thus the song title-sentence: “our only sin was giving them names.” The deep existential dread of the record isn’t just felt in the tones and the music, but in the words uttered.
Lines like “time has no shape, it is an entity” (‘Only’) and “tears in the fabric, lurking in shadows in the doorway of unreality. He says his name is Death. The truth is, he is something worse” (‘Was’) provides the listener with brutal imagery as to what these beings are like, and just how powerful they are. This is something that ‘It Comes In Waves’ does particularly well, offering terrifying descriptions of these entities that are to be feared. Meanwhile, the short and brutal ‘Them’ gives us a vision into a future where these beings have gone too far with their games and destroyed our world, with haunting stanzas such as: ‘burning on the funeral pyre of the world, with sweet, glowing rot dancing in our nostrils. Scent is memory, it reminds us to stop breathing. Gravity is life pulling us to the grave.” The tale that unfolds is not only skin-crawling, but makes one wonder about the world around us, and what actually happens after we die.
While I have a massive soft spot for TAS, I will admit that poor lyricism has always been one of their major downfalls, but that flaw has seemingly vanished on this album. There is a clear concept being waved in the face of the listener, through powerful metaphors, clever rhyme schemes, and even via that incredible album artwork, too. Even the cryptic sentence spelled out through the song titles gives a peek into the story driving ‘It Comes In Waves,’ stating that the choice of man to recognize the divine as gods and naming them was ultimately the downfall of humanity. This strange, science fiction-esque concept works for the band and provides a more interesting listening experience than their other works.
Although I love The Acacia Strain and this album alike, I did have the odd issue with some aspects of the songwriting. For one, there are a couple of moments where the sudden left turns are almost too much, interrupting the flow of the record. Particularly, the out-of-nowhere slower, darker change in pace in ‘Sin’ drags down what was previously a killer track, and this strangely out of place section continues for the rest of the song in its entirety. The first half of ‘Sin’ is a necessary step up in the pacing of the album after the slow drones of ‘Only,’ and it just seems kinda odd to have that energy interrupted so quickly. Something similar happens again later in the album with a clumsily added breakdown in ‘Them,’ which might have been an even greater moment had it just had a better transition.
I also wasn’t particularly fond of how some of the more fantastic elements of ‘It Comes In Waves’ seemed to get a little lost in the fuzz-filled guitar-scape and the chaotic nature of the mix. With moments like the enormous grooving riffs of ‘Giving’ or the “gravity is life pulling us to the grave” sections of ‘Them’ seemingly not being as prominent as they should’ve been. But those are small criticisms that pale in comparison to the sheer size, strength, and power of the grim universe that TAS are exploring here.
While ‘It Comes In Waves’ does have the seldom odd moment, it is still the most well-written and intricate release that The Acacia Strain has ever made. Hell, it’s probably even their best work yet! This album runs multiple circles around the breakdown-happy, hardcore chugfests that were the vast bulk of their previous efforts, and I am so happy to see this band finally realizing their full potential. ‘It Comes In Waves’ is a slow-moving behemoth that instills a dreading sense of hopelessness and fear, and uses powerful images to tell a bleak story of sins, gods, and man. This record proves that The Acacia Strain is far more than what many have so written the group off to be (although, the band did themselves no favours with past albums, in that respect.) This shows that they are capable of being so much more than what they have existed as for most of their 18-year long career. While it has already been confirmed that the band’s new 2020 full-length will be a return to their regularly-scheduled breakdowns – i.e. the “normal” sounding Acacia Strain – I can’t say that I would be disappointed if they ditched that sound completely in favor of the doomy, darkened hardcore sound displayed across this LP. ‘It Comes In Waves’ has truly changed my perception on what Acacia Strain are, and I cannot wait to hear what their future has in store.
‘It Comes In Waves’ is out now!