Sound — 7
The first time I heard The Acacia Strain, it was actually after having read this interview with former guitarist Daniel "DL" Laskiewicz. His ethos of economical riffing and soloing and serving the song really appealed to me, and "Continent" became one of my favourite albums in a genre that was still relatively new to me: deathcore. The deathcore scene has seen some bands come and go, and while as it continues to evolve, the genre tends to pick up more tendencies from other subgenres of metal, like tech-death and djent, it seems that bands writing the heaviest things they can manage is starting to hit a brick wall in its current format. With 2014's "Coma Witch", their most recent album and first released since DL's departure, the band seemed to hit a renewed stride after dealing with the loss of one of their driving creative forces. After switching to eight-string guitars on "Wormwood", the band's sound became a bit more based in the sonic realm of Meshuggah's music, bringing in low tunings and slower grooves, lessening their dependence on breakdowns (though the band's sound was far less reliant on them than most deathcore bands to begin with).
"Gravebloom" continues in pretty much the same vein. Sadly, this is actually a big part of the album's downfall. "Worthless" does have a fairly nice clean guitar section that sounds like it could have been lifted from any recent Meshuggah album. The title track boasts a pretty excellent solo, and "Dark Harvest" picks up the tempo with some impressive double bass work from Kevin Boutot. "Walled City" delivers some Gorguts-esque technicality and dissonance from guitarists Devin Shidaker and newcomer Tom "The Hammer" Smith, Jr. that's really excellent. The nine-minute "Cold Gloom" plods along in a doomy fashion, and features a rather melodic guitar moment near the end of the tune. But so much of the rest of this record is monotonous, low-tuned, doomy riffing, and aside from these moments, there really aren't any big stand-out riffs or moments in the songs.
By no means does this make "Gravebloom" a terrible album. As the individual songs go, this is as heavy as a neutron star, and the band's skills at creating a heavy, doomy atmosphere are unparalleled in the deathcore genre. There are some moments on this record that give bands like Meshuggah and Coma Cluster Void a run for their money, and the playing is quite good on this record. All of the musicians are definitely on top of their game. Famed metalcore producer Will Putney does a fairly good job arranging the band to wring out some good performances, and there are no shortage of those on the album.
But after so many years since "Continent" and "3750" and "The Dead Walk" were some of the heaviest records out there this side of Meshuggah, the writing on "Gravebloom" just seems to focus a little too closely on sticking with the formula, and listening to this record as a whole is a bit of a chore. The lack of variety and musical dynamics, aside from a few very short moments on the record, mean that it doesn't stand out among the crowd of current bands that do a similar style.
Lyrics — 7
Vincent Bennett's lyrics and vocal style come from a place of pure, seething hatred on "Gravebloom", and there doesn't seem to be a moment where this lets up at all through the record. Employing a guttural growl throughout the entirety of the record, Vincent's lyricism yields some brutally hate-filled one-liners like "I hope the dying took forever i hope it fucking hurt" ("Gravebloom"), "So fucking worthless, you serve no purpose" ("Worthless"), "Force fed glass as i step on your throat" ("Model Citizen"), and "I'd rather lay here dying than to listen to your talking" ("Calloused Mouth"). But at times, Vincent even manages to wax a bit poetic, even managing to evoke some pretty interesting imagery on tracks like "Abyssal Depths": "Drifting deep without a sound/Hoping I am never found/Answer the call of the grave/The coffin sank below the waves/Pieces pulled apart before they are rotten/Gone before I reach the bottom/Any trace of my existence erased/The coffin sank below the waves".
Perhaps the only negative comment I can give on the lyrics is almost a bit of minor nitpicking, but the AA/BB/CC/DD rhyme scheme is extremely pervasive on the album, with very few deviations from it, pretty much being only in the title track and a line here and there in the rest of the record. This is a rather minor nitpick considering that Vincent's extreme vocal style rather obscures the lyrics well, and some of the vocal hooks, like the one in "Dark Harvest", are actually ridiculously catchy, but still kind of speaks to the very formulaic writing at play on this album, where even the lyrics have a hard time escaping fitting into some formulaic box.
Overall Impression — 7
While the band's albums from "Wormwood" to "Coma Witch" signified a band growing into a new style, "Gravebloom" seems to show a band settled into that style. There's not much of a progression from "Coma Witch" on the record, and it does feel quite a bit like more of the same from the band.
That's not to say this is a terrible record at all, though. "Gravebloom" is one of the most ridiculously heavy albums that's come out this year so far, and as individual tracks go, there aren't any bad ones on the record. Listening to "Gravebloom" beginning to end might not have the same impact as listening to a track here and there, but make no mistake, these songs are heavier than Rob Ford, and a thousand times as pissed-off. If you're looking for the heaviest thing that's come out this year, look no further than this record.
However, I feel that a bit more variety in the tempos and moods would have gone a long way to improve the listenability of this record. As a whole, it kind of plods along, rarely meandering, and doesn't really hold your attention the way recent releases from peers Coma Cluster Void and Meshuggah do. Dare I say it, but it almost seems as if this record is a touch on the generic side.
Even so, as a fan of really heavy, down-tuned, pissed-off metal, I do recommend checking this album out. For all its imperfections, it's still a really solid record, and worth headbanging to.