Nu-Metal: The Album.
If the parental advisory sticker on the front cover wasn't enough, then I'll state it clearer for you all: ‘Circa '94’ will be one of the most nu-metal things you're likely to hear in 2018. No joke, 生 Conform 死's debut LP is a vinyl scratch or two away from being released in the late 90s or the early 2000s, and if it had of been, it would’ve sold thousands of copies quite easily.
Now, this Perth heavy outfit doesn't wear their collective influences on their sleeves so much as they submerge themselves deep into their inspirations; from the nu-metal greats of old to the heavier metalcore/hardcore sound that bleeds over into this genre's recent popular resurgence. To borrow an element from this very album’s title, this is Slipknot circa self-titled and 'Iowa'; it’s Emmure circa their most nu-metal; it’s Ocean Grove circa the ‘Black Label’ EP; it’s Sworn In circa 'The Death Card' but way more musically interesting; and it’s Cane Hill circa that band starting to actually be good. So yes, it goes without saying that these Western Australian heavy-hitters pour everything they adore about this music into their own. And boy, does it show!
[caption id="attachment_1102487" align="aligncenter" width="760"] 生 Conform 死, 2018.[/caption]
The occasionally distorted or pitched-down vocal, the down-tuned and rather well-done modulated guitars, and the use of eerie samples and sounds throughout the record are effective in nailing that darker, depressed mood of 'Circa '94'; the kind that goes in hand with nu-metal and metalcore so well nowadays. There's no shortage of heavy chugs, Wes Borland pit-riffs, loops, dissonant and schizophrenic leads, hypnotic Head/Munky-esque licks, and sharp pinches. All familiar, yes, but 生 Conform 死 do each of these staples well, thankfully.
Then, in the pocket of the quintet's air-tight rhythm section, you've got some really snappy and groovy metal drumming throughout from timekeeper Ben Murray. But what really gets me hot 'n' heavy are these insanely thicc bass grooves courtesy of Vincent Robinson that break through the mix to get plenty of love. All with one of the gnarliest bass tones I've heard all year too!
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However, a little more hit and miss are the subtle and not-so-subtle trap instrumentals and rap/hip-hop vibes here, which are mostly fine. (This is nu-metal we're talking about - I'd be worried if those things weren't included.) But man, there is just some super fuckin' cheesy MC-like hype callouts that detract from this album's overall tone. Parts like the eye-rolling "Let me here you fucking roar!" on 'Yellow Jacket' and the cringe-inducing "Yo, what's going on, new shit finally out 2018, you know what it is" verse-intro line from 'Deicide' both come to mind instantly. *shudders*
That being said, despite the odd hiccup or two, 'Circa '94' is a solid and well-strung together collection of 10 heavy nu-metal songs. It's competently-written and creative stuff, no doubt, but it definitely ain't all that unique. (I'd make a joke about this band not conforming or some other such low-hanging fruit, but I think I'd rather hang myself instead). But - and excusing this always backhanded compliment - you could do much worse as far as nu-metal and metalcore both go in 2018.
The clean and crisp production of 生 Conform 死's first full-length somewhat betrays how thematically dark and claustrophobic this bleak musical expression is. One that's written about bitter interpersonal dramas and relationships ending ('Vicious Thoughts', 'Gaslight Sunset'), struggles, one's inner drive and monetary woes ('Six Years, Sick Fears'), existential dread, personal and spiritual isolation ('Blood Eagle'), and the vice-grip of addictions that people chain themselves to all before blaming you or others for their own problems ('Yellow Jacket'). All of which, for the most part, reflects in the music's tone and songwriting - something that's progressed along nicely since the band's debut EP, the rather forgettable 'Vol I: Cigarette Lullaby' (2016).
'Circa '94' is also a highly nihilistic record too. Case in point: the opener is titled 'Roman Holiday' and is about seeing other people suffer, honing in on those overcast millennial thoughts of our current generation not being able to find happiness and that near-constant feeling of "shit, we're never gonna make it". ('Roman Holiday' also references Nirvana with the line "load up on drugs and kill your friends", because if you couldn't tell, 生 Conform 死 are obsessed with '90s music).
Beyond the lyrics, though, 生 Conform 死 delivers on offering more than a handful of solid nu-metalcore bangers too. Easy standout and Vikings-inspired lead single ‘Blood Eagle’ bottles up the band's varying sounds; big nu-metal riffs, dynamic sections, heavy breakdowns and tasty mosh-parts, hooky clean-sung choruses, hellish lyrical undertones, violent imagery, etc. And the song's key line of "If you find Jesus, motherfucker, let me know" has been stuck in my head since I first heard it! 'Deicide' (the killing of a god) goes hard and is an utter monster of a nu-metalcore track. Even with that weird stop-start moment at the 1:21 mark that abruptly kills the song's energy - like 生 Conform 死 didn't quite know how to transition into the next section - and that terrible aforementioned lyric of "new shit finally out 2018". Elsewhere, the sharpened anger of 'Yellow Jacket' is straight-up riff-central throughout and is matched with some brutally vehement and direct lyrics as well: "lost control, you've finally overdosed/lost control, you're finally comatose", and my personal favourite line, "let me feed the flowers amongst the soil and dirt/down to my resting place". (Edgy? maybe, but fuck you, I liked it).
One properly bouncy and slapping track here is the recently released ‘Six Years, Sick Fears’, which features one of the most unashamed Fred Durst vocal imitations I’ve heard outside of Limp Bizkit themselves come the track's midsection. However, that's probably the whole point of this fifth song: to pay (dangerously close) homage to the band's heroes. If that's indeed the case, mission accomplished! In a similar regard, I must give real props to the band's vocalist, Troy Van Der Meer, who channels a wide array of timbres and styles across 'Circa '94'; touching on everything from rap and hip-hop flow, aggressive hardcore yells, tough metalcore screams, to these deeper roars of borderline-deathcore vocalisations. The guy does a lot vocally and while I don't personally love every single approach he takes here, Troy most certainly keeps things interesting for 生 Conform 死's sound as a frontman. Which is a godsend for music like this, really.
Yet one moment that doesn't at all leave the best first impression is the lo-fi rap intro of closer 'Cyanide' which sounds like the band only just heard $uicideBoy$ and thought: "fuck it, why not?" Or like they just wanted to sound like old (read: the best) Gorillaz, except it's nowhere near as good or as iconic. Thankfully, the rest of the song serves much better, seeing 生 Conform 死 utilizing chunkier guitar riffs, booming low-end, evil-as-shit dissonant intervals, and solid dynamics sections that help better expunge the questioning and frustrated lyrical content. The song ends with these low and heavy growled vocals of "So where do I go from here?/I am so fucking sick and tired of all of my fears" that just bombard your soul along with the instrumentals and then it's curtains for the album. It's an unsettling, "This confession has meant nothing" sort of ending I feel, yet given the dark nature of 'Circa '94', that self-loathing is more than fitting for a final send-off.
[caption id="attachment_1101923" align="aligncenter" width="760"] As for those two Mandarin characters, “生” refers to birth and life, whereas “死” refers to death. Hence why their Bandcamp page reads "liveconformdie" as the URL.[/caption]
Similar to that of Korn’s older records, 生 Conform 死 carry a great sense of space to their "Nü-shit" style, what with songs like 'Roman Holiday' and 'Blood Eagle' having the mix "fall away" to be solely held up by heavy bass riffs and vocals. Moments like this offer breathing room, bolster the following section(s) with greater impact, while also succeed in locking you right into the massive grooves the band reign down upon you. 生 Conform 死: please don't quit this approach. It keeps things paced-out in a good way, whereas many other bands fall into a trap because they just want to be as heavy as possible, all the goddamn time. Which isn't all that sustainable in this genre(s).
生 Conform 死 seem to also tap into the slightly more experimental qualities of nu-metal; weirder sounds and odd sonic ideas that are often sadly forgotten in favour of the style's more mainstream BS: JNCO’s, bright red snapbacks, superfluous use of the word “fuck”, and every other cliché that you're thinking of right now. Whether it's the ambience creeping in on 'Yellow Jacket'; that pitched haunted-house laughter sample heard briefly near the end of 'Deicide'; the recurring old-timey vinyl sample used in 'Eat More Death'; the massive instrumental change-up on the short but blissful sounding 'Vicious Thoughts' in favour of pianos, clean guitar melodies, romantically-vague lyrics and soft clean singing; or the chorus-tinged vocals, heavily-sampled sounds and trip-hop vibes of the album's penultimate instrumental track, 'Crawl'.
This all provides 'Circa '94' with an added dynamic, as 生 Conform 死 fill out the foreground and background of their sound well-enough with some detail a few nice little production tricks. Something that this album's great mix further supports too. It's wishful thinking, but if I had it my way, I'd love to see 生 Conform 死 walk further down this path and expand on these stranger elements. I mean, they probably won't. As that's just not where this often indulgent scene's mosh-cred is found. Yet these guys really do have something great lurking in the darkest corners of their debut LP, and I sincerely hope that it all comes out stronger as they develop further over time.
I guarantee you that once this review is published, shared out on our socials, and once 生 Conform 死 themselves read it, they probably won’t give an ounce of a fuck either way on my own thoughts. (I'd argue most don't, whether I loved or loathed the release in question. And that's fine, I don't do this for anyone else). Because here's the thing about this debut album: you don’t write a record like 'Circa '94' that's this ingrained in a certain sound unless your heart is completely in it - not caring at all about what others think of it in the process. That kind of attitude I can respect, for this Perth quintet have doubled right down on their nu-metal admiration and loaded it all up into their musical firing chambers for 'Circa '94'. Whether you enjoy or despise nu-metal and metalcore will, of course, be the deciding factor in your interest towards this release. But look past that and there's some real quality to be had here. So don't be a nit, keep close tabs on 生 Conform 死 moving forward.
‘Circa 94’ is out Friday, May 18th. Thank god it was only 10 songs: any more would be too much. Much like my review.