Sound — 6
It's been a bit of a strange couple of years for deathcore. Admittedly, I thought at its inception that this genre would be little more than a passing fad that spacer-wearing kids who like flailing their arms wildly in moshpits would forget about in a couple years' time. But bands like Whitechapel, Carnifex, The Acacia Strain, Thy Art Is Murder, All Shall Perish, and yes, Suicide Silence, are reaching their 10-15 year milestones, while up and coming acts like Rings Of Saturn, Infant Annihilator, Enterprise Earth, and AngelMaker are still making big waves in the style, other new bands like Ev0lution and The Algorithm are mixing deathcore influences with other genres like EDM, and classic bands in the genre like Bring Me The Horizon, The Contortionist, and also Suicide Silence have completed drastic evolutions (the first two into pop-influenced hard rock, and true progressive metal, respectively).
Suicide Silence's transformation is the one we are focusing on in this review, and is about as drastic as one gets in a short period of time. While Bring Me The Horizon and The Contortionist very gradually changed their sound from album to album, Suicide Silence is bludgeoning their fans with the change coming hot off an album that was reasonably along the same lines as their past work (2014's "You Can't Stop Me," their first album with current vocalist Eddie Hermida, after the tragic death of former vocalist and founding member Mitch Lucker in 2012). "You Can't Stop Me" was pretty typical fare for the band, with a lot of strong material that fit well within fans' expectations and still showed a definite progression in the band's songwriting and musicianship.
Their new self-titled album, however, drastically rewrites the band's rulebook. Clean vocals, weird "ambient" guitar noises, jumpy riffs, sloppy production (whether in a good way or not is really up to the listener)... this isn't a deathcore album like you've ever heard. Many of the songs on this album are much more easy to compare to the works of Korn, early Slipknot or Deftones than other deathcore bands. Gone are the breakdowns, the cleanly executed riffs and solos, and polished production of previous albums. Unfortunately, unlike the bands this album appears to be influenced by, the band seems to have forgotten a lot of the things that make those bands special, and ditched a couple of cardinal rules about writing effective songs.
The album has a completely permeating sense of inconsistency. This is one of the most all over the place records I've listened to in a while. As a fan of prog-rock myself, I'm pretty used to mood whiplash within a song. But usually, other bands do this with a certain amount of finesse and grace. Often, on this album, it feels like the band stumbles to and from styles. Despite my massive amount of respect for guitarists Chris Garza and Mark Heylmun, their riffs and solos are often just noisy during the album's heavy passages, and amount to little more than sonic assault. There are some tracks where they branch out a bit into clean guitar arpeggios and even acoustic guitars, such as on "Conformity," which itself actually starts off as a really decent ballad, at least until the song takes a bit of a left turn for noisy sort of almost The Mars Volta-isms in the solo and ending (really, it's not hard to imagine Omar Rodriguez-Lopez having played guitar on this track). Every once in a while, this album feels like it's about to absolutely rip your head off and shit down your throat, but more often than not, when this happens, the song always seems to just kind of deflate into some messy wah guitar and minimal drums, such as on "Listen." "Doris" and "Silence," the album's first two controversial singles, actually represent some of the more focused material on the record, and are definitely the two biggest shoe-ins for single fodder on the record. Another track that retains a much more focused kind of consistency is the album's closer, "Don't Be Careful You Might Hurt Yourself", which is probably about as close to a straight-up deathcore song as you'll get on this record.
Instrumentally, the players are just fine. As mentioned, Chris and Mark's guitar playing is often more noisy and discordant (case in point, check out the outro to "Dying in a Red Room") than their past works, but it's clear that they are quite talented players. Mark actually plays a fair number of solos on this record that are very varied in style, and I quite enjoy that about them on this record. Many times, deathcore bands tend to stick to a single kind of sound, and it is nice, from a guitar playing perspective, to hear so much variety here. Bassist Dan Kenny and drummer Alex Lopez are also firing on all cylinders, and when the riffs are good, they're GREAT. But oftentimes, the album just lacks any real consistency in quality, and the album can be a little difficult to listen to, though a lot of that also has to do with the production as well as the playing.
Lyrics — 6
Lyrically speaking, Suicide Silence's new album is also rooted more in the nu-metal paradigm than the kind of brutal imagery I expect in deathcore. Take the album's opening track and debut single, "Doris," for example. It's hard to really pinpoint what the song is really about, and the lyrics seem to be more of a snapshot of emotions rather than a story. Some of it just makes little sense, like the second verse lyrics: "To be with someone's lover, my bad/You know it, I threw up/My little, my trash, my lover/Show me how it is inside/Show who I am this time/Too good/To let you/Either way this blood will rot/To be, just be/The blood is draining through my eyes". Now, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, and honestly, the lyrics on this album are not entirely terrible, sometimes even coming off as a little poetic, like on the song "Silence": "War, berates us/The simplest heartbeat connects us/Rivers are flowing to the ocean/I will meet you at the bottom/It takes nothing to say/Just how still you had me!/Silence, breathing in your fear/Silence, death is all I hear."
Now, the vocals are a bit of a different story. After replacing the deceased Mitch Lucker, Hernan "Eddie" Hermida, seemed to have a promising start with the band's previous album "You Can't Stop Me," on which he was actually singing some lyrics written by Mitch before his death in a motorcycle accident in 2012. Apparently, Lucker had already been talking about using clean vocals at some point, so the decision to change up the vocal style was not unprecedented, but fan reaction when Hermida declared "up to 70%" of the album's vocals would be clean was mixed, to say the least. And straight from the get-go, the vocals are clearly the culprit for a lot of the album's inconsistency in quality. "70% clean vocals" is perhaps a bit generous, depending on your definition of clean vocals, as a lot of the cleans on this album are of the sort of pained variety you're used to hearing from classic nu-metal vocals like Korn's Jonathan Davis or Deftones' Chino Moreno, except with none of the finesse or balance that makes them special. The harsh vocals are not bad, and it's actually nice to hear some variety in the harsh vocals, which is something a bit lacking in the deathcore genre at times, but generally, Hermida's style is not to my taste in any case. "Hold Me Up, Hold Me Down" is perhaps the most "deathcore" of the tracks on the album altogether, and are probably the best example of his use of harsh vocals. The first half of "Conformity," the album's clean acoustic ballad, is also actually pretty decent to listen to, at least until after the solo and the more nu-metal styled vocals kick in.
Overall Impression — 6
With its imprecise, inconsistent style of playing and production, I found "Suicide Silence" to be a very, very difficult album. It's quite likely that this album will be controversial to fans of either of the genres that are represented here, deathcore and nu-metal, and it doesn't really sit in either of those paradigms all that well. Despite a great amount of effort and even some very admirable attempts at experimentation, this is just a poorly-executed album, even though there's a lot of potential here. But potential doesn't add up to results 100% of the time.
I've heard this album referred to by people who are, by all admissions, much greater fans of the deathcore genre than I as "the 'St. Anger' of deathcore." And while I can certainly draw the comparison based entirely on the production values of this album alone, I feel that it's not quite a potent enough comparison. I almost tend to think of it more as the "Lulu of deathcore". Certainly, part of this comparison comes down to the social media hype around the album, and the band's tendencies towards abusing parts of their fanbase that disliked the album, to the point of defending it almost as if it had honest high-art ambitions. Truth is, the band could have just as easily came out and admit that it was experimenting and that the results may not have been for everyone but that it was what they really wanted to do. But much like the much-maligned Lou Reed and Metallica collaboration, this is going to be an album that will sharply divide fans into distinct "love it" or "hate it" camps, with a vast majority of them being in the latter. Personally, never having been the most immersed in deathcore fandom, I'm probably one of the few people I've seen on the internet with a very "on the fence" opinion of the album. Even though it's poorly-executed in places, there are still some great moments on the album where you can see those rays of potential peeking through the fog, and if the band were to really hone in and focus on those elements and do so in a consistent way, they may have a much better record on their hands. But I'm not going to deny that there are some good parts on this album, too.
But I'm already forseeing the comment section of this review being full of very, very strong opinions one way or the other, and this album certainly doesn't seem to elicit any other type of fairweather opinions. And perhaps that was the whole point of this experiment. Honestly, it's gotten more people talking about deathcore than any other band I can think of in the genre's history for a long time. And you know what they say: any publicity is good publicity...