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‘Eternal Blue‘ will be one of the biggest heavy records of 2021’s calendar. Spiritbox’s long-awaited and significantly anticipated debut album is a truly robust if somewhat flawed record, as we’ll get into. It’s a vulnerable experience at its heart. It’s also a heavy album, but not one that’s defined by an arbitrary definition of what “heaviness” can or should be, and that’s one of its greatest strengths. If there was any lingering doubt about what husband and wife, guitarist Mike Stringer and singer Courtney LaPlante, can do on their own post-Iwrestledabearonce, this album puts all those thoughts to rest. For when you view the band’s debut album from above, it’s many things all at once. It’s poppy, it’s heavy, it’s progressive, and it’s atmospheric – it’s Spiritbox!
For the most part, ‘Eternal Blue‘ is undoubtedly solid stuff. No matter how you skin this cat, it is going to be a big fucking deal – just glimpse at their streaming stats and the writing is already on the walls. Though not just for the band who created it and the mighty success they’re going to see from it, but for so many eager listeners around the world and for this band’s many peers alike. Before we dive too deep down this Mariana Trench, let’s go over what the public has already heard: it’s five singles.
More than its crushing brutality, lethal pick scrapes and genuinely awesome heaviness, thanks to Courtney’s intimidating low growls, ‘Holy Roller‘ works so well due to its strong industrial edge. The talk-box vocals in the verses joined with looped drum-and-bass samples create a wicked new age contrast when things suddenly shift into metal. Factor in the lyrics interesting Biblical metaphors of religious zealously and demonic personification, the result is one of the band’s finest creations.
Place the bludgeoning nature of ‘Holy Roller‘ next to the dynamic ether of ‘Constance‘ and it’s like two completely different bands, a stylistic fluidity that really makes this record tick. Named after Courtney’s late grandmother, who didn’t very much like her screaming, ‘Constance‘ is paradoxically delicate but never weak. It’s intimate but powerful. When the band bring forth a stacked wall of guitars, slow bends and darker chord progressions in the chorus, their scope is undeniable, feeling like it could shatter the very earth itself. It’s a heart-breaking effect and that’s the point. Mike’s beautiful licks complement this stunning arrangement and his wife’s heartfelt vocal performance perfectly, and the track’s fading waves of blurred distortion at the end embody the brain shutting down from dementia before death even comes. If this composition was a movie scene, it’d be a mournful setting sun shot or. Courtney’s choice to not scream once in it is a touching detail given the context, marking 2021’s most fitting album closer that’s not called ‘Mombasa.’
The inviting ‘Secret Garden‘ is a hyper melodically focused track and one one of the album’s strongest, armed with a nuclear-grade hook that’s nearly impossible to forget. Mike’s metallic tone and technical picking in the verses is impressive as is the pin-point precision that bassist Bill Crook dishes out, feeling like earlier and “proggier” Spiritbox works. Moveover, this is Courtney’s album, and ‘Secret Garden‘ sees one of the more personally reflective moments off ‘Eternal Blue‘ for the frontwoman. Seeing Courtney discussing her own personal growth via a garden-growing analogy and how people have either ignored her or taken advantage of her during crucial developmental points in her youth.
As for ‘Circle With Me,’ which is just a weaker rehash of ‘Blessed Be‘ in some ways, the thematic framing of two individuals (or perhaps just one person that’s split against themself) circling one another, like an immovable object meeting an unstoppable force, didn’t really grab me. Nor did the song’s severely bland, Architects-esque metalcore pastiche. Oh well, not every release can be a winner! Far more positively, however, we have the toxic, dysfunctional co-dependency of “mutually assured destruction” talked about on second track and recent single, ‘Hurt You.’ Complete with subtly distorted and noisy synths and electronics, ‘Hurt You‘ is pure songwriting confidence, and that’s undoubtedly felt in its high-energy and razor-sharp choruses.
That’s the singles, so let’s dive into the remainder of the album. Starting with the so-far unreleased songs that I feel are the weaker links.
Right off the bat is opener ‘Sun Killer,’ a mixed bag for me. The first half is some meandering, mid-tempo prog-metal, sounding like it could’ve come from any dime-a-dozen prog acts. With oceanic and cosmic lyrical imagery, it’s a believe-in-yourself commentary; to not let one’s parade get rained on by the “lullaby” of parasites and their “twist of a knife.” But it’s almost like Spiritbox themselves know that it’s kinda dull and a little boring, so things take a hard right into breakdown town. Trying way too damned hard to elevate the track’s heart rate. In the intro, peaking rumbles and thumping subs move under ghostly ambience, and it’s a cool combo. Once the track reaches its bridge, slowly morphing into that big mosh finale, said intro passage returns as Courtney whispers “sun kil-ler, sing me to sleep” before the trio drops a slow’n’heavy breakdown on ya ass. With sick bending riffs and Courtney screaming full chest, it ain’t a bad outro. But one that’s not quite worth sitting through a really plain opening half to arrive at. As an opening statement goes for a band’s first full-length album, ‘Sun Killer‘ left me wanting.
On ‘The Summit,’ there’s small minute details I like but ones that don’t make up for the lame sum of its parts. I dig the dry guitar and bass tones in the verses, Courtney’s higher-resister voice being shown off, the robotic vocoder placed on her singing, and the cool rhythmic rests implemented at the end of one or two measures to add emphasis to the groove. Yet this is ultimately just such a nothing track. Boiling it down, this is simply grey matter. Not the most melodic or atmospheric; not the heaviest or most aggro; never the most experimental or even the blandest. If there was ever a song to be described as a lonely wallflower sitting on the side, it’s ‘The Summit.’ The song’s theme of ‘glorious purpose’ and personal drive clearly means a lot to Courtney, and I respect that, but the song itself is just… there. Spiritbox are incredibly talented, but they missed the mark on this fourth track, it failing to ever feel like a hard-fought mountain climb with no euphoric pay-off when the “summit” is reached.
The dense cerulean feel of the album’s title song is captivating. At first. The pretty guitars, the looping lo-fi synths, the phone beeps, Courtney’s crooning vocals – it’s lovely! Like diving headfirst into a Spiritbox-owned coral reef, exploring their crystal blue sonic ocean bed. As it goes on, however, it doesn’t develop anywhere interesting or surprising. At best, a brief guitar solo before the last chorus and some slight nu-metal-sounding guitar staccato is the most you get. It feels like it’s going through the motions without any real purpose. And maybe that’s intentional? To reflect how Courtney has felt at times in her life; an ebb and flow of her mood? (“Eternal Blue” as in feeling like you can’t ever escape depression.) Though in song form, it didn’t make for an engaging experience to me, and I’ve been a depressed cunt since I was 15. This is where the atmospheric-heavy nature of the record shoots itself in the foot, leaning into that side of things a little too much for its own good. If you’re expecting an album full of ‘Holy Roller‘ or ‘Hurt You,’ reevaluate your expectations right now.
Given the name, ‘Halcyon‘ is obviously a number that’s about reflection, a core theme of the larger album. This particular song talks about finding relevancy, fitting in or fading away, and being caught in reverie. But man oh man, it’s too jarring. Not because it’s too chaotic – I’m a Frontierer shill, I thrive off chaos – but as in its clumsy. This band can do jarring genre and tonality changes well, as per ‘Holy Roller‘ or ‘Hurt You.’ Yet on ‘Halcyon‘, it feels underbaked and inconsequential. Slipping in a slower, generic breakdown at the end after 20 seconds of lowly atmos also doesn’t help the song’s case, guys.
That’s it for me being a Negative Nancy and what I think didn’t work too well on ‘Eternal Blue.’ So let’s look at the album’s three fantastic highlights: ‘Yellowjacket,’ ‘Silk In The Strings,’ and ‘We Live In A Strange World.’ A trio that rivals my two personal favourite Spiritbox tunes, ‘Trust Fall‘ and ‘Blessed Be.’
‘Yellowjacket‘ is a dementedly heavy track with insane riffage and a sinister electronic undertow that gloriously features Architects‘ Sam Carter. Dealing with memory and perception in how others inflict lasting trauma upon us that takes real time to process, that pain being akin to a yellow jacket’s bee sting, this is the most instrumentally and vocally aggressive song found on ‘Eternal Blue‘ next to ‘Holy Roller.’ Sam’s feature (thankfully) isn’t just a one-and-done thing either, but an integral piece of the puzzle and the whole song is so much more than a mere facsimile of 2016-2018 era Architects vibes that was ‘Circle With Me.’ Whether the pair are trading low vocal blows on a section-by-section basis or harmonising their pitched vocal talents like in the chorus, this is the metalcore duet of 2021. I can already see coming the countless YouTube and stitched TikToks covers of this violent rager.
I love the honesty expressed during the riffy and technical, if somewhat blatant Silent Planet-sounding metalcore extravaganza, ‘Silk In The Strings.’ It’s squarely about escaping from the web of someone poisonous for you, carrying their words or influence with you long after the fact. That pain is combined with a killer rhythmic urgency. It’s a super revved up track, one of the album’s fastest, potently blending eerie guitar licks over electronic percussion in the coiled verses before the band goes in for the kill with city-levelling refrains a la the iconic Akira intro.
And then there was ‘We Live In A Strange World.’ This is Spiritbox seen through an ambient, moody pop music lens with synthetic production and a minimalist tone. There are lots of sweet little details found here (like the guitar tapping heard after the first chorus) and the way it all builds up is just so fucking exceptional. Like the re-use of similar rumbles from ‘Sun Killer‘ or when the live drums hit one minute in; it’s a great example of tension-and-release. Even when the band experiment, it makes sense. Someone tell Maynard, the pieces all fit here! When Courtney hits that dizzyingly high vocalisation at 2:18 as the song shoots off into a stratospheric conclusion, you can all bet I’m fist-pumping the air, thinking to myself “what a band!” It’s moments like this that make ‘Eternal Blue‘ feel like such a champion moment. Well, even if not every song got there in the end.
‘Eternal Blue’ mostly lives up to the insane hype surrounding Spiritbox right now, lofty expectations generated by obsessed sycophantic fans and click-driven heavy music press declaring they’re “your new favourite band” whenever a new single dropped. Whilst maybe a little too atmospherically plodding at times, and while there are some songs I could’ve really done without – like ‘Circle With Me’ and ‘The Summit,’ which I’ll never come back to once this hits streaming on September 17th – ‘Eternal Blue’ has plenty of gold within its equally poppy and proggy metalcore mine. For any dud holding down this 13-track record that really should’ve just been ten, there’s another two tasteful, purposeful and forward-thinking bangers. (See: ‘Holy Roller,’ ‘Constance,’ ‘Secret Garden,’ or ‘We Live In A Strange World.’) Ensuring that the dynamic and bold outweighs any uninspired and meandering moment.
Spiritbox’s debut LP is an exceptionally produced work, an emotionally resonant statement from Courtney LaPlante about her life, her darkest thoughts, and her experiences with depression. At its peak, ‘Eternal Blue’ is a colossal statement showcasing the tonal and genre fluidity that this band expertly wields. Spiritbox have existed for a couple of years, with killer EPs and singles under their belts already, yet ‘Eternal Blue’ is like a new beginning for the Canadian group. They’re only just getting started.
Silk In The Strings
We Live In A Strange World
Circle With Me
‘Eternal Blue’ is out Friday, September 17th.