By the numbers metalcore.
It’s easy to argue that modern metalcore is very much the summation of its constituent parts: the telegraphed staccato breakdown; the saccharine clean chorus; the cheeky pinch harmonics; the melo-death lead riffs; the hardcore two-step; the cavernous crew vocals; the flashy solos; the sweet-and-sour/honey-and-vinegar/good-cop-bad-cop vocal trope. However, in an over-saturated genre that’s remained mostly consistent in terms of form, tone and execution for over two decades, bonafide originality isn’t necessarily what’s required to stand out from the crowd. The line of demarcation between a true metalcore pack leader and just another faceless ‘Verb The Noun’ bottom-feeder is essentially this: either subvert the existing metalcore expectations in exciting and unique ways or double-down on those traditional elements and completely nail the execution.
In this respect, Florida wrecking crew Wage War represents a band that falls convincingly into the latter category. Hailing from the city of Ocala — the very same town that birthed pop-punk-metalcore juggernaut A Day To Remember to the world stage — this young five-piece are more than adept at following the tried-and-true metalcore formula. Signing to Fearless Records in 2015, the band's debut album ‘Blueprints’ showcased a talent for seamlessly blending their soft and heavy musical sides; somewhat akin to a sonic Dr. Jekll and Mr. Hyde (and the less said about that dismal Russell Crowe version, the better). ‘Blueprints’ was a runaway success, pushing the band to the very top of the metalcore crop, across main stages and coveted tour-spots, while also putting them on the road for the last two years across the US, Europe and Japan.
And now in 2017, Wage War have returned from bunking down in the studio with their eagerly anticipated, second album follow-up ‘Deadweight’. So, is it a case of the dreaded sophomore slump or merely second time’s the charm?
Listening to ‘Deadweight’ several times over, what becomes immediately apparent is that there’s more to like here than dislike. As an album, ‘Deadweight’ knows exactly what buttons it’s pushing, and Wage War commit to relentlessly mashing the pad with all fifty fingers available to them. Ultimately, the main question to be asked is whether the likeable elements are fun and enjoyable enough in isolation, to forgive the band’s often luke-warm transgressions.
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Lead single ‘Stitch’ is a perfect example of the band sticking to what they do best and completely doubling-down on their strength in execution. With zero clean vocals and a hefty amount of groove and bounce, ‘Stitch’ is thoroughly angry, pissed-off and easily one of the catchiest, heavy bangers released this year. At times, it hits like a bunch of hardcore kids jamming out to early Slipknot and White Zombie records - which is exactly as sick as it sounds. There’s just enough variation in vocalist Briton Bond’s vocal phrasing, along with some old-school, alt-metal head nods to keep shit interesting, but perhaps most importantly, the track manages to keep Wage War’s sonic identity firmly in place.
On the flip side, where this variation lets the band down is on the blatantly obvious radio-single ‘Gravity’. Guitarist Cody Quistad is certainly a more than capable clean singer, with his vocal contributions across ‘Blueprints’ and ‘Deadweight’ acting as an essential part of the band’s soft-heavy dynamic. Yet on ‘Gravity,’ they appear to have done a little too much doubling-down, as this track stands out like the sorest of thumbs from the rest of the tracklisting. With delicate leads, layered harmonies and a mid-tempo chorus, any listener would be instantly forgiven for thinking that this track was just an ADTR B-side that accidentally found its way on to a Wage War album. And considering that ‘Deadweight’ was recorded and engineered by Andrew Wade (ADTR, The Ghost Inside, Eyes Set To Kill), with ADTR vocalist Jeremy McKinnon sitting in the producer’s chair, these connections make the sense of sonic déjà vu seem even more egregious.
Simply put, when the band sticks to what they do best, it often works and works well. Album highlights include: Bond’s demonic vocal performance on ‘Southbound’, the crushing breakdown moments and subtle key change on ‘Indestructible’, and the nu-metal stomp of ‘Disdain’. Yet for every moment that shines on the record, there are also a few duds. Singles like ‘Don’t Let Me Fade Away’ and ‘Witness’ don’t really go anywhere unexpected, sounding more like ‘Blueprints’ off-cuts, whereas ‘Two Years’ just feels under-cooked, and closer ‘Johnny Cash’ finds the band doing their best (or maybe worst) Northlane/ERRA impression.
‘Deadweight’ is by no means a bad record. In fact, musically, tonally and lyrically, it’s an above-average metalcore record. If you’re new to the genre and happen to use bands like I Prevail and Blessthefall as your benchmark for guidelines, Wage War offer up something far more satisfying here on their second album. That said, if you’ve been around the metalcore block a time or two (like this reviewer), those looking for the above-mentioned originality in composition or execution will find very little here that’s worth returning to. Still, ‘Stitch’ is such a rollicking good time, that it almost makes the entire thing worthwhile.
‘Deadweight’ is available from August 4th through Fearless Records, and you can purchase the record in all regular formats here. In support of the album, Wage War will be embarking on their first ever jaunt Down Under this September, as the main support for Make Them Suffer’s ‘Worlds Apart’ tour alongside local beatdown crew Alpha Wolf. Tickets are available here.