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The way I see it, ‘How To Survive A Funeral‘ is the first record we’ve gotten from Make Them Suffer that doesn’t have an over-arching conceptual narrative. Gone are the science-fiction stories and old poetic tales of star-crossed lovers. I don’t wish to call it “realer” than their previous albums, but it has a very different emotional throughline in its ten songs. It’s not trying to spin you an epic story, it’s just trying to be honest and direct. Given the band’s release prior to this record was the grim and confronting ‘Hollowed Heart‘ – a violent, brutal single with its iron-sights set right on the vile actions of abusers and the devastation they leave their survivors with – things were perhaps always going to feel more grounded and personal on this new LP. Maybe don’t expect to see Sean Harmanis and the band explaining the chronological plot line of this new album via a Reddit thread or during a Twitch stream.
‘How To Survive A Funeral‘ is about struggles and feeling like the weight of the world is on your shoulders; about being pushed right to the brink and the ways in which we cope with that. Moreover, it’s also seemingly about the death of “the self”; a deconstruction of one’s own ego. Our introspective and self-redesigning moments that are born out of loss. The things you learn about yourself and want to address or change when you lose the people closest in your life – friends, family, partners – that made your own short existence upon this floating rock that much richer and brighter; honing in on the very things and people that you care about. As well as those that you don’t: the things, habits and people that you consciously no longer have the time for and wish to expunge from your life. It’s a record that’s about the internal (what you see inside) as much as it is about the external (what people see in you.)
Sounding like the next natural progression from that of ‘Worlds Apart‘ (2017) – especially songs like ‘Save Yourself‘ and ‘Fireworks‘ – ‘How To Survive A Funeral‘ has all of the flavour-of-the-day metalcore traits that you’d expect from that of bands like Architects, Gravemind and Currents. Whilst trying one or two new things, this is also their most “commercial” sounding record yet. But here’s the thing: it’s never once disingenuous, which is the biggest difference. Alongside some dastardly heavy moments that call-back to the band’s death metal and deathcore roots (but nowhere near as symphonic), Booka Nile’s vocals are far more prominent, the atmospheric and melodic tendencies pull harder from that of Deftones (including some of the riffs), with the band’s mix of major and minor key melodies being as strong as ever. This isn’t my favourite Make Them Suffer release by quite a large distance but one cannot in good conscious call it dishonest or phoned-in. Just as the first line of lyrics on this record state, it’s all spoken from the heart.
So let’s start off with ‘Step One,’ a short yet quite forgettable overture. Funnily enough, the closing section of this intro song sounds like a slightly heavier, djentier carbon-copy of ‘Sometimes You’re The Hammer, Sometimes You’re The Nail‘ by A Day To Remember (the part that begins at 0:26.), featuring a knock-off riff, with both songs even having their respective similar sections kicked off by their frontman screaming “GO.” There’s obviously only so many riffs, lyrics and ideas one can write before things might start to sound like another band or song, but this comparison is pretty on the nose. ‘Step One‘ also does feel unnecessary in the grand scheme; feeling like a piece that could’ve partially been included onto the first proper track of the record, ‘Falling Ashes‘ – a much better, fuller opening moment – or just cut entirely. Though to be fair, it’s nowhere near as redundant as the useless intro’s heard on the latest releases from Void Of Vision or Drown This City, to name but two recent Australian examples.
‘Falling Ashes‘ is the real start of ‘How To Survive A Funeral.’ This fucker hits hard and fast from the moment you hit play, sounding like pure Make Them Suffer, bridging equal parts magnificent melody and malevolent metal together in just over two and a half minutes. The first 90 seconds is what we expect from the Perth act – keys set over the top of racey blasts, pounding double kicks and speedy guitars with an emphasis on lurching, instrumentally and vocally syncopated grooves – and then we get this surprising bridge section that really spices the track up. With Sean’s distant screaming, light strings, drifting piano notes falling like snow, and pulsating kicks, a woman’s modulated voice tells you to let your mind drift through the past and the future. It’s like hypnosis, further playing into Sean’s lyrics of “the lights are on but no one’s home,” making it all thematically cohesive. All before the band return to the song’s throat-tearing intro to make for a wicked song that probably should’ve been the LP’s actual beginning point.
As Sean shouts “I can’t breathe!” at the start of ‘Bones‘ – a coincidental opening lyric that has very different real-world connotations due to police officers repeatedly murdering black men such as George Floyd and Eric Garner in the streets – Make Them Suffer unleash one of the grooviest pieces of music I think they’ve ever recorded. With these super dry, punchy tones and jumpy drums and guitars, the huge bounce of this third song sounds like something that AJ Rebollo and Issues would’ve put together for ‘Headspace.’ But that’s no bad thing! ‘Bones‘ is a great example of the memorable, catchier aspects behind the choruses on Make Them Suffer’s latest record. What with this bright instrumental placed underneath a decent pitched-vocal refrain from Sean that acts like the light – the resolution, if you will – to the song’s darker, polished core passages that it sets up nicely. And just like ‘Erase Me,’ ‘Bones‘ closes out with a big sing-along that feels like it was written with the live stage in mind. It’s not half bad; just watch this shit go off when gigs start happening and the band can hit the road again.
When ‘Drown With Me‘ first dropped, I didn’t mind it. It was a straight-forward, heavy-as-balls song for Make Them Suffer. Yet since hearing it within the context of the whole album, and after many repeat trips through ‘How To Survive A Funeral,’ I’ve since done the most radical thing that a person can do on the internet: I’ve changed my mind. ‘Drown With Me‘ is now my least liked song of the whole damn lot. When looked at next to its peers on this fourth LP, it doesn’t hold up whatsoever. It has one of the weakest choruses when compared with that of ‘Erase Me,’ the title song or even ‘Bones.’ In terms of heaviness, it’s also not up there with the album’s stronger examples of sonic brutality: ‘Falling Ashes,’ ‘Fake Your Own Death‘ and ‘That’s Just Life.’ It simply feels like how low the band could go instead of how well they could write. Besides, if the only thing you can say about a song is that it’s good because it’s “pretty heavy” or has a semi-decent, slow breakdown, then it ain’t a very good song to begin with. (‘Drown With Me‘ also highlights the LP’s awful drum tone. Jordan Mather is a phenomenal player, but the drums’ overly sample-blended or possibly outright programmed sound is quite distracting at times.)
Much has already been said about ‘Erase Me‘ and it’s chorus melody being a ring-in for Jay-Z and Alicia Keys‘ ‘Empire State Of Mind,’ one of the most well-known hip-hop songs of the last ten years. It is an uncanny comparison, and it is pretty funny, but guess what else? It’s a rip-roaring track nonetheless! I’d be lying to you all if I said that I didn’t love it. Nothing regarding that nearly identical refrain can take away from the fact that ‘Erase Me‘ is THE song off ‘How To Survive A Funeral.’ The flow, the structure, the layers, the build-up and pay-off: this is anthemic, S-tier Make Them Suffer at it’s very best. Let me put it another way: the last time that such a powerful mixture of emotions, blast beats, uplifting melody and blackened tones put a big goofy smile on my face was the emotionally-crippling and mentally-exhausting ‘10:56/Second Son Of R.‘ by Oathbreaker. And that’s one of the best songs of the last five fucking years.
One of the tracks I was referring to earlier about being external, ‘Soul Decay‘ – written about watching someone’s fall from grace – is some mostly solid, gratifying metalcore. The kind that’s laced with spiteful amounts of anecdotal regret and venom. But it’s a song that maybe should’ve ended at the 2:52 time stamp. Right as that mentally “burn it to the fucking ground” breakdown wraps up. As the rest just feels so superfluous. No more of that song exists after said point in my mind, as I soon found myself skipping it once that head-crushing passage was done and dusted. However, ‘Fake Your Own Death‘ goes down much better: a shorter yet somehow angrier and heavier metalcore piece that feels like this album’s jarring, chugging answer to that of ‘Fake‘ or ‘Blood Moon.’ I have no idea who shat in the band’s cereal, but ‘Fake Your Own Death‘ will go down as one of the sickest tunes in the band’s entire history: Sean flexing why he’s one of core’s best vocalists today, killer harmonic guitar runs, tighter-than-Tupperware breakdowns, and a sense of urgency that most bands could not hope to capture.
On the titular ‘How To Survive A Funeral‘, guitarist Nick McLernon hits that squealing pinch harmonic button hard. Actually, it’s more like he’s playing all the harmonics, pushing his screaming guitar riffs up against every inch and corner of the track with an added sense of churning dissonance that permeates the composition. Outside of the gnarly riffage, Booka leads one of the finest, smoothest choruses Make Them Suffer have written in some time. And the chemistry between these choruses and the parts that Sean spearheads is as good as it’s ever been, with some well-done vocal layering of said parts in the finale. Similar to that subversive, “hypnosis” section heard in ‘Falling Ashes,’ the band also suddenly change things up early on around the 0:38 mark. With glitchy drum beats, piano melodies and Booka’s soft vocal lines, a short glimpse of a different Make Them Suffer is revealed. And I’m all for it! Better yet, this dynamic change-up feels integral, never once sounding like an after thought. To the point where I wished that the band explored these experimental moments of different genres deeper.
‘The Attendant‘ is the biggest surprise here: a rock-orientated, metalcore ballad. Slower, rockier, more palatable, melodic and dynamic overall. Over the course of ‘How To Survive A Funeral,’ you get teased by Sean’s clean singing: the bridge/end of ‘Erase Me‘ and very briefly in ‘Bones.’ But on ‘The Attendant,’ it’s no longer hiding, he’s openly singing, marking a first for the band’s sound. And strangle me while I cum, the guy has a lovely singing timbre, really fitting this loftier arrangement and the vocal chemistry with Booka rather well. As much as I like this number, however, it’s another bizarre coincidence that this song sounds like an off-shoot of sorts from Loathe’s ‘Is It Really You?‘ in terms of feel, dynamics and form, which does impede my enjoyment of ‘The Attendant.’ (So that’s, what, three different songs that sound like they’re pulled from other artists?)
If you told me that ‘That’s Just Life‘ was originally meant to be a single or a B-side from the ‘Ether‘ and ‘Worlds Apart‘ era, I would’ve believed you hook, line and sinker. The muted guitars in the verses under Booka’s ethereal melody, as the song crosses between those sections and these sharper, djenty moments where Jaya Jeffery’s gritty bass tone peaks out all sounds like it belongs on their last record. But I sure ain’t complaining. As per the subversive songwriting tricks heard earlier in ‘Falling Ashes‘ and the titular song, ‘That’s Just Life‘ does something similar. After 45 seconds of distilled in-your-face Make Them Suffer, the floor of the track gives way to pitch rising sounds and electronic percussion before coming back around with a vengeance. Of course, splashings of electronics and samples have been previously explored in older songs like ‘Through The Looking Glass,’ ‘Contact,’ or even during the smaller breaks in ‘Uncharted.’ Yet no matter the specific point of this finale you focus on, Make Them Suffer send it hard, coalescing everything they do into a damn strong conclusion.
Their first non-conceptual release, and to quote that now memed-to-death IGN review, ‘How To Survive A Funeral’ has a little something for everyone. Whether you love older or newer Make Them Suffer, their fourth outing features a bit of everything that the Australian act has done hitherto: fuck-off-heavy death metal, brutal deathcore aspects, strong djent undertones, savage metalcore sensibilities, hefty usage of keys and electronics, and all of their melodic components. More than that, ‘How To Survive A Funeral’ attempts one or two new things. Like Sean Harmanis singing for the first time on ‘The Attendant,’ glitchy and sample-heavy dynamic parts, and Booka Nile pushing her counterpart vocal melodies and keys further to the forefront of Make Them Suffer’s sound.
However, for me ‘How To Survive A Funeral’ is one of Make Them Suffer’s weakest records. Yet the funny thing about such a statement, as this is Make Them Suffer we’re talking about, is that automatically makes it an above-average release. Still better than most of the shit that this genre gets saturated in, anyway. Personally, this album sits alongside ‘Neverbloom’ in full context of the band’s catalogue: not at all bad but also not fantastic either. It just doesn’t come close to the sheer heights previously reached on ‘Old Souls’ (2014) and ‘Worlds Apart’. With maybe the exception of ‘Erase Me,’ nothing here is on the esteemed par with ‘Hollowed Heart,’ 27‘ or even ‘Ether.’ (A similar criticism that I also had with the new Justice For The Damned album, solid as it was.) But no matter what you think about new MTS, what you’re expecting, or how you’d want them to sound, make sure you pay your respects once this drops.
Drown With Me
Fake Your Own Death
How To Survive A Funeral
That’s Just Life
‘How To Survive A Funeral’ is out digitally Friday, June 19th, and releases physically on July 10th: