Even with new parts, they still got it.
For any band, losing members is a shitty order of business. Especially when said member is/was a principal songwriter and founding member of said band. For Ontario melodic hardcore crew Counterparts, this was the case with last year's departure of longtime drummer Kelly Bilan (who’d been with the band since 2012, and featured on their last two studio records) and lead guitarist Jesse Doren, who along with mainstay vocalist Brendan ‘B’ Murphy, was the only remaining member from the band’s original 2007 inception line-up. Before going into detail about how this loss impacted and ultimately crafted the band’s fifth full-length album, the aptly titled ‘You’re Not You Anymore,’ allow me to digress for a moment.
I recently watched the incredible music documentary Yesterday Was Everything by director Matthew Mixon (ex-7 Angels 7 Plagues, Burning Empires), which chronicles the history and reformation of Misery Signals to their original line-up for the Malice X tour: a run of shows across the U.S. and Canada, celebrating the tenth anniversary of their highly-acclaimed debut album, ‘Of Malice and the Magnum Heart’*. I bring this point up for two reasons. Firstly, the documentary touches on the not-so-amicable split of original vocalist Jessa Zaraska from the group in 2006, the emotional wounds left on both sides by member changes, and how the group struggles nearly a decade later to put those differences aside to celebrate the profound art they created together. And secondly, speaking to the Buzzfeed of the heavy/alternative music world - Alternative Press - about the meaning behind their newest record, ‘You’re Not You Anymore,’ Brendan Murphy had this to say:
“When I think about the bands that inspired us, I think about the first Misery Signals record, 'Of Malice [And The Magnum Heart]'. Jesse Zaraska is a good vocalist, obviously, but he doesn’t sound robotic and it doesn’t sound like this is his day job. He sounds like he’s screaming because that’s all he can do... If it’s a miserable song, it should sound miserable when I’m screaming it. We’ve got stuff from both [metal and hardcore], and I think the reason that we do that is because we all heard Misery Signals and Shai Hulud and all those bands, and they all blended it so well. That’s what kind of intrigued us to step away from one end of the spectrum and walk down the middle. It definitely took years and years of awful songs and miserable band practices, but we finally pulled it off.”
After listening to ‘You’re Not You Anymore’ intensely over the last couple weeks, I’ve come to strongly agree with Murphy's sentiments. Despite the setbacks and hurdles the band have faced, Counterparts have crafted a record that is ruthlessly efficient, and is a solid combination of everything fans have come to love and expect from them: fast, heavy and dissonant; bright, engaging and poignant; all killer and no filler.
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The most immediate thing to notice about ‘You’re Not You Anymore’ is how radically short the album is. With eleven songs and running just over 28 minutes in length, this is the first Counterparts record to come in under 30 minutes. For album number five and not an EP, this might seem like an odd move, but one listen to ‘You’re Not You Anymore’ makes the reasoning behind this decision clear from the get-go. It’s not laziness or a lack of creative drive; simply put, this album is utterly relentless. There isn’t a wasted note, scream or second on this entire record. Each track is sequenced perfectly, providing the right amount of contextual lyrical background or sonic reprieve for the next one that immediately bursts through your eardrums. It’s a great example of purposeful songwriting and something that’s evidently resulted from the band having to re-tool and reconfigure the individual components of the band after the departure of Bilan and Doren.
Since the band’s last record, 2015’s rather underwhelming ‘Tragedy Will Find Us,’ only Murphy and rhythm guitarist Adrian Lee remain. The introduction of new three members – lead guitarist Blake Hardman (ex-Gideon, ex-Hundredth), drummer Kyle Brownlee and bassist Tyler Williams – meant a fundamental shift in the core of the band’s rhythm section for ‘You’re Not You Anymore’. Under normal circumstances, a change this drastic might result in a Ship of Theseus-style identity crisis for a band. However, Counterparts use this member change-up for the better, sounding leaner, more focused and totally revitalised on their latest record.
Lead single ‘Bouquet’ is the best example of this reconstruction-through-disintegration. After the brief instrumental interlude of ‘Walk Away Slowly,’ the track rushes in with an urgency that the band hasn’t mustered since the intense AF ‘Witness’ from 2013’s fan favourite record, ‘The Difference Between Hell and Home’. Lyrically, Murphy talks about moving past misery and tragedy, reaching a fever pitch as he chants: “I find it hard to feel alive while my heart beats in borrowed time/The cadence that I’ve kept confined existing only in the black behind my eyes.” Brownlee brings a swift and punchy tempo to this blistering track, while Hardman injects a bright, melodic undercurrent to the track’s heavier moments; a motif that Counterparts excel at overall, really.
This mixture is a common feature of ‘You’re Not You Anymore,’ with many tracks featuring the band’s signature blend of lead-rhythm interplay, off-time chug patterns and Murphy’s indomitable vocal performance, like the epic pre-chorus of ‘No Servant Of Mine’ or the massive, steamrolling breakdown in ‘Swim Beneath My Skin’. Elsewhere, the Canadians utilises melodic power chords to accentuate the more emotive and heartfelt aspects of Murphy’s lyricism (‘Haunt Me’; ‘Fragile Limbs’), which finds the frontman exorcising his demons through a laundry list of mixed metaphors, including doors, keys, mirrors, sand, footprints, flowers, growth, etc.
Incorporating those previously mentioned Misery Signals and Shai Hulud influences, there are plenty of moments on ‘You’re Not You Anymore’ that fluctuate between progressively stirring and crushingly heavy. ‘Thieves’ is an explosive diss track, with squealing pinch harmonics and an echoed, guitar ring out, where Murphy torturedly screams, “With my last breath, I will strangle you to death with your own fucking hands.” It’s a shot of brutality that could function as an END track, and with engineer Will Putney (Fit For An Autopsy, Thy Art Is Murder) handling production of this very album, that's almost too easy of a comparison to make. ‘Rope’ pulls off some truly hypnotic bounces in the verse, before huge, driving riffs signal a truly gigantic pit call (“Hope is a blade that bears my name/I knew your rope was made for me.”), followed by a pile-driver of a beatdown and a cracking reverse snare.
With each track smashing right into the next, it’s easy to get lost in this record and ultimately not notice the condensed run-time. Only three tracks manage to reach or exceed the three-minute mark, and it’s the gut-wrenching closer and title track which represents the album’s longest contribution, where Murphy returns to the central themes of futility, the past, and rebirth in the album’s haunting final moments: “Aim your sharpest arrow at the centre of my chest/A memorial to signify the sense of helplessness/We dare not mourn our past lives, our loss will be reborn.../Because I couldn't love who you were, but you’re not you anymore.” Powerfully gripping stuff, indeed.
In that very same interview with Alternative Press, Murphy expresses the meaning of the record and the personal feelings surrounding the creation of ‘You’re Not You Anymore’: “Every song on the record is related to a change or a growth. I went through a lot of changes, a lot of 180s in my life since 'Tragedy [Will Find Us]' came out. It’s the same with the band. We’ve had founding members quit. We lost our main songwriter. We’re taking a newer approach to our songwriting process. We pinpointed what we need to do and what we’re good at as a band... We definitely trimmed a lot of fat and cut a lot of filler out of the record. It’s very short, but it’s quality over quantity. I think it’ll hit a lot harder for everybody than the last few.”
And there isn’t much more I can add to a summary of this record. Despite its short length, ‘You’re Not You Anymore’ is a succinct summary of everything that Counterparts stand for musically, lyrically and thematically, while also functioning as an encapsulation of the band’s entire back catalogue. It’s their most captivating record in years and it bodes well for this newest chapter in the band's career.
[*Side Note: ‘Of Malice and the Magnum Heart’ is easily my favourite record of all time, and (in my humble opinion), one of the most complete and influential metalcore records in existence. Taking this into account, Murphy’s comments about Zaraska as a vocalist, and the importance of that record on Counterparts as a band, have an extra resonance with me as a fan of both bands. Plus, I will fight to my last dying breath defending the glory and legacy of that record. WORLDS & DREAMS!]