Sound — 5
You'd think that with the Christian metal scene beginning to occupy their own space of deathcore music, it would warrant its own subgenre name - Crusadecore, perhaps? Betraying The Martyrs aren't necessarily using their music career as a means for international missionary, and they're quick to establish that their messages aren't exclusively for Christians (as many Christian-influenced bands are accustomed to disclaim), but regardless, the shoe certainly fits. For a band that's quite young, Betraying The Martyrs have an impressive track record of bands they've toured with, playing alongside well-established extreme metal bands like Carnifex, Born Of Osiris, Unearth, Suicide Silence, Whitechapel, and Emmure, which has greatly helped Betraying The Martyrs garner a substantial fanbase within a relatively short time. Their debut album, "Breathe in Life," showed a promising start for the band, and now, they've released their sophomore album, "Phantom."
As shown in their music so far, as well as speaking about it in interviews, Betraying The Martyrs have a lot of things they like about metal music. They're just as inspired by golden-era death metal as they are inspired by the new generation of metalcore, and, whether or not it's because they're from Europe, they're also inspired by the grandeur of symphonic metal. With all those inspirations, Betraying The Martyrs attempt to cram them all in "Phantom," with most songs being a hodgepodge of blistering deathcore sections, conventional metalcore breakdowns and chugging sections, and flashy choruses, with synth elements accordingly peppered in throughout. If that doesn't sound like anything new to you, well, that's because it isn't. For the most part, Betraying The Martyrs take their multiple metal influences and throw them into a blender, mixing them into a neutral-colored product that doesn't boast any real distinction, and that's because those influences conflict. The idea that pairing death metal intensity with clean and glimmering choruses is the way to win over both old metalheads and new metalheads is misconstrued, specifically in the case for the old metalheads - songs like "Jigsaw," "Phantom (Fly Away)," "What's Left of You," "Lighthouse" and "Closure Found" may boast some high energy worth appreciating, but when they also contain friendly metalcore choruses, it's just as jarring to them as drinking orange juice right after brushing their teeth.
What sums up this problem perfectly is the cover Betraying The Martyrs did of "Let It Go," the ubiquitous theme song from the recent Disney animated film "Frozen." Though they try to balance out the saccharine chorus with a deathcore pre-chorus section, it still doesn't change the fact that you're listening to a Disney song. This cover also feeds the facepalm-inducing trend of today's metalcore bands scoring attention points for making a version of a pop song that can be moshed to, and frankly, it simply needs to be stopped. Could you imagine if Converge tried to grab more attention back in the '90s by doing a metal cover of "The Circle of Life" from "The Lion King"? And people wonder why the older generation of metalheads hates what's coming out today.
On a more positive note, though, Betraying The Martyrs show some advancement in their synth area in "Phantom." While the electronicore-influenced parts found in "Walk Away" and "Closure Found" come off uninspired, Betraying The Martyrs make some good bets on the symphonic elements, like the organ usage in "What's Left of You" and the film-score-esque moments in "Lighthouse." They also tend to a more relaxed and atmospheric gear in "L'Abysse Des Anges," "Afterlife" and "Your Throne," which not only act as proper symphonic interludes, but also show the band being able to provide good breaks to contrast the power of all the other songs. It just comes to show that when Betraying The Martyrs commit to one sonic direction instead of trying to cover several bases in one song, the outcome is palatable.
Lyrics — 6
Betraying The Martyrs have shown a dislike for being exclusively labeled a Christian band and have tried to set that record straight as being "not just a Christian band," but when you see the amount of religious themes throughout the lyrics in "Breathe in Life," it ends up superseding their clarifications. In "Phantom," however, frontman Aaron Matts starts to make more efforts to step into a religiously-neutral zone while still showing a fondness for penning positive lyrics, and with the references to sinners or Judgment Day being toned down several notches, it ends up making the messages more uplifting and less fire-and-brimstone-y. Much of the lyrics deal with sentiments of this-worldly existence, promoting camaraderie amongst one another and living life in the best way possible - and while there's nothing wrong with a fundamentally positive message, things do end up falling into clichés at times, such as using the brand-name statement "you only live once" in "Legends Never Die," but hey, at least they didn't use its abbreviated form, "YOLO."
Overall Impression — 6
While some bands have properly balanced on the tightrope between death metal and metalcore (it's not an impossible thing to do), the biggest problem in "Phantom" is that it shows Betraying The Martyrs cramming too much into their songs, and instead of advancing forward in one succinct musical direction, they try to captivate as many different metalheads as possible with a buffet of sounds, but it doesn't work. "Phantom" may be used by die-hard death metal fans as further evidence to why they feel deathcore is an abomination, but it's not universally bad. While Betraying The Martyrs may not show the same amount of instrumental intensity and commitment as more vetted death metal bands, they still show better intensity and variance than other metalcore bands in "Phantom," and for those on the metalcore side of the fence that are looking for metalcore that offers more, "Phantom" will provide that for you.