Sound — 4
While some bands show a bit of bashfulness when donning the label of a Christian-rock subgenre, due to being concerned with polarizing listeners, other bands show an ardent pride with the Christian label and pay no mind to whomever doesn't fancy their beliefs or messages in the music they make - I, The Breather is a band of the latter. Forming five years ago, things quickly took form for the Baltimore, Maryland natives, and within a year, they signed with Sumerian Records and released their debut album, "These Are My Sins." Quickly being welcomed into the Christian metalcore scene with open arms, I, The Breather's follow-up album, "Truth and Purpose," would yield more success, peaking in at #13 on Billboard's US Christian Album chart. Things wouldn't stay picture perfect for the band, however, and a few months after their second album release, bassist Armand Jasari would leave the band; a year later, founding member and drummer Morgan Wright would also leave the band after describing that he felt "burnt out" as a drummer. Evidently, this wouldn't stifle I, The Breather's consistent 2-year pace for record releases, and after finding member replacements, they would continue on to record and release their third studio album, "Life Reaper."
Still rooted in metalcore, "Life Reaper" shows I, The Breather moving away from the technical metalcore elements found in the previous "Truth and Purpose" and towards electronicore, though this direction seems to be for the worse. Where crunchy, by-the-book metalcore riffs were spiced up with decent technical leads, I, The Breather are substituting that with an over-prescription of post-production effects, where guitar and vocal parts are leniently chopped up throughout the album, and though the effects are another way to make the metalcore chugs come off less stale and the breakdowns more interesting (albeit a cheap way), they also hog the spotlight in nearly every track. With this newfound fondness for hyper-aggressive effect usage, I, The Breather seem more eager to drop into grandiose breakdowns than ever before, and even when the band displays some good visceral riffs in "Life:Reaper," "Dear:Devil" and "Swine:Cult," and admirable drumming by Aaron Ovecka (arguably the most genuinely improved element on the album), it ultimately gets phased out by the overzealous production; the single "Soul:Seek" is a key example of this. The most well-grounded parts of the album come at the tail end: with "Re:Volution" being an extended experimental interlude that follows "Shape:Shifter" and, ironically, sounds somewhat inspired by the electronic side of Nine Inch Nails; and the final song, "Identity:Crisis," which feels refreshing due to its sparse usage of post-production effects in comparison to the rest of the album - but with the first 80% of the album to trudge through before reaching that part, it's more trouble than its worth.
Lyrics — 7
Frontman Shawn Spann starts to show more ambiguity with his lyrics in "Life Reaper," being that you aren't getting bombarded with scripture-like lines in every minute of the album, and even in the most overtly-Christian lyrics that reference the Devil (in "Dear:Devil," "Shape:Shifter," and "Identity:Crisis"), the word itself is open to interpretation, usually as the dark side of one's self. Spann also shows a sharper set of teeth in his lyrics, asserting his defiance and anger towards oppression and the slight of others in "Setting:Sun," "Life:Reaper," "Swine:Cult" and "Chain:Breaker"; however, some of the lyrics found in these songs tie back to lyrics in I, The Breather's old single, "False Profit," and it seems more like an echo of Spann's first take on society rather than clever callbacks. To act as a foil to the fraternal messages found in "Setting:Sun" and "Chain:Breaker," Spann also writes about the woes of depression and inner battles in "Dear:Devil," "Shape:Shifter," "Demon:Dreams" and "Identity:Crisis," and though he shows glimpses of rock-bottom sentiments numerous times in these songs, he also balances out the negative with the positive, anti-suicide message in "Self:Restore." While not boasting the most profoundness, Spann brings forth an alright variety of accessible messages that get the job done.
Overall Impression — 5
"Life Reaper" is indeed something different for I, The Breather's discography, but it feels more like a step downward than a step forward. While the electronicore influence isn't wholly condemnable, the moral of this album is that it ought to be used in moderation, and not thrown into every conceivable nook and cranny on the album. It may make sense for I, The Breather to opt to load up their breakdowns with more sounds and effects to make them stand out amongst all the other breakdowns being recorded today, but there's more to a song than a breakdown (a fact that a lot of bands should recognize). And though post-production effects are essentially meant to spice things up, it's the overuse of it that steals the visceral energy from the album, turning it into a husk of superfluous sound; "Life Reaper" ends up being quite a proper title in that regard.