Sound — 7
Despite the subgenre being close to a decade old now, djent still seems to be a very divisive term within the metal community, usually conjuring images of guitars with way too many strings (and at least one of them tuned well into the lower bass register, which that guitarist will ride into oblivion), production that's too modern and crisp and clean, and as a result, it seems there are plenty of hard-hitting names that are trying to distance themselves somewhat from what is considered to be the "core" sound, pioneered by bands like Periphery. Chicago's Veil of Maya, on the other hand, seems to be doing the opposite. Starting from something of a more traditional "deathcore" sound, the band has incorporated more and more "djent" leanings into their sound, often with a cheeky sense of humour (see the outro of "Punisher" from their "Eclipse" album for a good example), and on their last album, "Matriarch", even began to experiment with clean vocals (courtesy of newcomer vocalist Lukas Magyar), pushing them completely into "djent" territory.
The band has not abandoned all of the traits that have made them unique in the metal realm, though. From the first minute of "Fracture", strange guitar noises and bass-heavy riffage abound. The songs retain their short, punchy lengths (not one track on this album exceeds four-and-a-half minutes long, odd for just about any genre of metal outside of grindcore). Despite the band's new focus on catchy, melodic vocals, Lukas still gives the band some very heavy harsh vocals. But if the catchy parts are something they've only started experimenting with on "Matriarch", "False Idol" expands upon them greatly. "Doublespeak" contains one of the best hooks you'll hear in a djent album this year, along with some deliciously choppy-sounding guitars. "Overthrow" contains some quirky guitar riffs that transcend the whole "000000" riffing idea, showing guitarist Marc Okubo's talents, and also features some soaring vocal melodies. "Whistleblower" brings some unique atmospheres to the table with some interesting background vocals and effects. "Pool Spray" has some very captivating harmony vocals that almost bring to mind Monuments more than Periphery. But there are still some very "deathcore" moments on the album as well, like the intro to the blistering "Follow Me".
Pretty much the whole album follows this formula to a T, with some very obviously djent-inspired riffs, epic melodic choruses, and it's safe to say that in terms of songwriting, Veil of Maya have found a formula that works for them on "False Idol" and stuck to it. Because of this, it's hard to really pinpoint any particular standout moments on the album, though you'd be hard-pressed to find anything to dislike if you're a fan of the style. From the soaring harmony vocals in many tracks to eccentric guitar riffs from Marc featuring whammy-bar-fluttered harmonics and weird noises in between chunky riffage, the writing is pretty standardized throughout. "Manichee" maybe presents the biggest diversion, with the entirety of the song featuring clean vocals and slower riffs. "Citadel" is a very similar track, working in a bit more "traditional" metalcore paradigm, that also features a very interesting intro with some wordless vocals and piano, and it's probably the only moment with some more interesting production trickery, something the band seems to be a bit lighter on than many of their contemporaries. And the production is fairly bass-heavy, even though Danny Hauser's bass playing rarely stands out against Marc's guitar playing, he is certainly very audible through the whole album. Sam Applebaum's drumming is as tight as you'd expect in the genre, though I'd say the drum sound is a bit of a weakness, as a lot of the snare hits sound the same, leading me to believe that the drums may be programmed in spots.
Lyrics — 7
With track titles like "Whistleblower", "Doublespeak" and "Overthrow", one would probably expect that "False Idol" has a more political bent to the lyrics, but if these lyrics are political in nature, the band does a good job at obfuscating their views. Instead, we're treated to some very typical extreme metal lyrics along the lines of the anger of "They'll fear me in the afterlife/I will haunt you endlessly" ("Whistleblower") and the man vs. machine motifs in "These machines will not see defeat/As they sever your arteries/Mindless skeletons under control/Slay them all 'til their blood is cold" ("Follow Me"). These are not exactly poorly-written lyrics, as they certainly do get the point across, but there's not a whole lot of originality left in lyrics like "Turning your back on the bond we've made/You've dug your own grave/And now your terror is mine to shape/I'll watch you die afraid" ("Doublespeak") anymore.
Rather than the focus being on the words themselves, "False Idol" tends to be more about the delivery of those words by vocalist Lukas Magyar, and when it comes to his harsh vocals, he's definitely capable of some absolutely terrifying screams. There is a bit of variety in his harsh vocals, as well, with double-tracked low and high parts adding emphasis to certain lines, and a change in timbre at times that gives his harsh vocals a bit of an edge over a lot of metal screamers. But the real treat is his clean vocals, and while it'd be way too easy to criticize their similarity to Spencer Sotelo's vocals in Periphery, what they add to Veil of Maya's sound is an edge of epicness and willingness to experiment, and I think having clean vocals has been a vast improvement to Veil of Maya's music.
Overall Impression — 7
After their transition into a fully-fledged djent band, complete with all the sub-genre's trappings (for better or worse), on "Matriarch", Veil of Maya have continued their trend on "False Idol", expanding upon the additions to their sound, but while still maintaining the things that have separated them from other bands in the style, such as Marc Okubo's spastic guitar riffs, and their incredibly tight production.
In a way, it's kind of strange to see a band only begin to fully embrace the djent style, because as new as the style is, it's nearly a decade old by now, and has proven to have more longevity than the majority of its detractors have claimed (for the sake of comparison, The Beatles were together for a shorter period of time than the majority of the "classic" djent bands have been). But Veil of Maya proves that there's still some validity to djent, and "False Idol" is an album that's sure to please any fan of bands like Periphery or Animals as Leaders. But if the band's shift into more melodic territory on their last album, "Matriarch", did nothing for you, it might be best to avoid this album. For what it is, however, this is a really good album.