Sound — 6
With the beginning of iwrestledabearonce's career being fueled by the quirky genre curveballs they threw in between hectic and heavy deathcore riffs, they made a name for themselves early on with polarizing potency - it was just as easy for the novel electronicore and hoedown sections heard in their debut album "It's All Happening" to be well-received for its uniqueness as it would be emphatically reviled for its irreverence. But with that debut album promptly pushing the band into popularity, they would get more serious in their songwriting. Their follow-up album, 2011's "Ruining It for Everybody," showed more thematic cohesion in the band's hybrid sound rather than goofy spitballing, and more contained metalcore sections rather than spastic mathcore sections. This path towards a more stable iwrestledabearonce would still continue even after original vocalist Krysta Cameron would leave and be replaced with Courtney LaPlante, with the resulting album, 2013's "Late for Nothing," weaving more neoclassical gothy undertones in its easier-to-digest metalcore instrumentals, as well as containing the largest amount of clean vocals compared to the band's previous albums.
However, with this growing of steadiness in iwrestledabearonce's style, it consequently bred unrest, with the band's early fans feeling the band had strayed too far from its chaotic side. That sentiment seems to have resonated with the band, and in rebounding reaction to the less-aggressive "Late for Nothing," iwrestledabearonce dive head first back into the heavy in "Hail Mary." With numerous songs substituting clean vocals and simple chord progression riffs for more growls, blastbeat/tremolo sections, hectic tapping leads and crunchy breakdowns (see the jarring mathcore opener "Gift of Death," the short but strong "Killed to Death," and "Wade in the Water"), the band succeed in surpassing the deathcore strength heard in their debut album.
This goal is met at the cost of substantially downsizing their genre juggling capabilities. Gothic melody elements make their appearance in "Erase It All" and "Carbon Copy," which are more or less runoff from the style heard in the band's previous album. But with the band's experimental nature not being totally dormant, the experimental investment heard this time around is a big expansion in the pitchy & glitchy guitar leads that they've toyed with in earlier albums, which have now become an integral element in "Hail Mary." Those leads which are used prominently in "Remain Calm" pay homage to the wonky pedal mutations heard in the guitar solo of Smashing Pumpkins' "Zero," and the squeaky chopped guitar bits in the second breakdown of "Trips" sounds similar to Tom Morello's killswitch technique. Inspirational nods aside, these unconventional guitar sounds offer a more mature display of electronica-esque infusion in their deathcore, as opposed to the band's earlier gallivanting with kitschy Casio arpeggios.
As potent of a recipe iwrestledabearonce use here, though, they end up cooking too much of the same thing, and having opted out of including genre curveball sections like in earlier albums, "Hail Mary" dulls out its extreme but limited repertoire over time - the fact that it's the longest album they've made further stresses that deficiency. A key example is the cool technique of the band inserting a peripheral panning layer of glitch guitar into a breakdown in order to spice it up - first heard in "Curse the Spot," it's used again in "Doomed to Fail, Pt. I" to better avail, but when it gets recycled again in "Trips" and again in "Man of Virtue" it hemorrhages its intriguing impact. And with every song containing the same kind of extreme metal meat (save the clean, righteous and superfluous reprise "Doomed to Fail, Pt. II"), the handful of songs stacked with everything ("Gift of Death," "Doomed to Fail, Pt. I," "Carbon Copy," "Wade in the Water") render the rest of the album's tracks as weaker echoes.
Lyrics — 7
As the album's title would indicate, the main subject matter in the lyrics "Hail Mary" revolve around the criticism of organized religion - which was seemingly foreshadowed in the final song of "Late for Nothing," whether intentional or not. While LaPlante cultivates constructive criticism in some cases (like the self-empowering "Can we transcend more with ourselves if we think our head is Heaven" in "Trips," and "In time, the dissonance becomes believable" in "Your God Is Too Small," which identifies the supremacist undertones in religious teachings), she spends more time growling destructive criticism in the spirit of raw usurpation - from pointing an accusatory finger at religious fundamentalists for their manufactured sanctimony in "Remain Calm" ("You're overcompensating to hide your moral failing"), to brashly targeting them in "Man of Virtue" ("When I find you / I will break you"), and even brandishes an inflammatory biblical symbolism in "Curse the Spot" to salt the wound ("If you wanna play holy, I'll be the snake in the garden"). Though this forceful demeanor in lyrics does at times fall into an uncanny valley of flat and ridiculous carnage (e.g. the gore-porn lyrics of "Gift of Death"), LaPlante's articulated strength makes for a nice change from the lyrical themes of powerlessness heard in iwrestledabearonce's previous album.
Overall Impression — 6
Sometimes it's both a blessing and a curse to get exactly what you wished for, and for iwrestledabearonce, their wish to make a rousing return to unrelenting deathcore in "Hail Mary" overshoots the mark. While the employment of unorthodox guitar sounds and a surplus of extreme metal riffs succeed in making the album the heaviest of the band's catalog thus far, its narrow focus and repetitive compositions waterlogs itself, preventing it from sailing at an optimal level. If the previous "Late for Nothing" had iwrestledabearonce feeling too light, "Hail Mary" has the band feeling uncomfortably heavy - but in the wake of that, they just might be able to use those two unsatisfying poles to find the happy medium for album five.