Sound — 8
This seems to be the era of metalcore and deathcore bands revamping their sound, usually through the inclusion of elements like clean vocals or more experimental song structures. No stranger to doing things a little bit differently, Within The Ruins have always brought some disparate elements to the table with their blend of deathcore, technical metal, and even the odd fling with prog-metal here and there. Distancing themselves a bit from the "deathcore" label on their last release, their 2014 album "Phenomena", the band's sound has shifted a bit into what Born Of Osiris were doing on their first two records. 7-string guitars, deep "djenty" tunings, and Joe Cocchi's amazing lead guitar work have helped to set them apart from other bands in the genre. And, much like many deathcore bands today, the band has even started to experiment with clean vocals (courtesy of bassist Paolo Galang).
But before the collective community chimes in, whining in admonishment about changing their style, this album is far more dynamic, but also much more cohesive and consistent, than those of many of its peers who have also made such a huge change to their sound (specifically, last month's much-maligned self-titled album by Suicide Silence). Though there are echoes of almost nu-metal experimentation in tracks like "Death of the Rockstar", they are incredibly minimal and do very little to detract from a very solid performance from the band. The clean vocals are mostly layers here and there for added atmosphere, used sparingly rather than beating you over the head with a catchy chorus. Though the grooves on the album are much closer to the more "djent"-oriented bands in the genre like Born Of Osiris ("Absolution" is probably the closest the band gets to that sound on this album), they're still unique enough to set the band apart from its peers in both the djent and deathcore scene, making this band a bit harder to pigeonhole.
One of the aspects of this band I enjoy the most is, of course, Joe Cocchi's guitar work. His solos are peppered throughout the album, and while the basic formula for each one is the same (really, all that joking about Kirk Hammett and his wah pedal applies here, too), it's just a good enough sound that I see no reason to mess with it. Cocchi gets a lot of room to stretch out on the instrumental "Ataxia IV", part of a series of instrumental tunes by the band that essentially serve as a showcase for the guitar playing. Bassist Paolo Galang and drummer Kevin McGuill also perform quite admirably on the album, though their purpose is less to impress with dazzling flights of fancy, but to be the rhythmic foundation for the band, which is a job they do quite well.
The production on this album is pretty much standard for an album of the genre, lots of keyboard layers added on top of the band's sound, some very gated start/stop rhythms here and there, and a very bass-heavy mix that can be a little too loud for repeated listens. The songwriting is another slight weak point for the band. For all their amazing riffs and solos, the band hasn't really left too much of a lasting impression with the songs. Technically dazzling, this album is, but it's not exactly the most hooky record out there right now. "Death of a Rockstar" might come the closest to having a kind of standard structure and a bit of an earworm. I do feel, though, that unlike a lot of bands in the genre who prefer a blazing show of technicality to impressive songwriting, the guitar work on this album is enough to make up for some songwriting gripes.
Lyrics — 8
"Halfway Human" also sets itself apart from many of its peers with its rather decent lyrics, relying less on violent and disturbing imagery but delving deeper into psychological and even somewhat philosophical matters. Vocalist Tim Goergen never quite gets into the kind of political bluntness we've heard from others in the genre as of late, but in the album's opening song "Shape Shifter", opines "I've spent so much time up on the fence, just to see which side is greener. My vision is blurred, my speech is slurred, and I'm only getting deeper to walk away and separate completely."
"Death of the Rockstar" tackles a growing dissatisfaction with the music industry: "The fantasy has expired, is spoiled and reeks of complete shit. Force fed, easily digested you seem so used to the taste of it. Burn burn dying star, how I wonder just who you are." Definitely some very angry lyrics, and befitting of Tim's aggressive delivery, but there's a bit of an emotional depth to the lyrics on the album that belies some of that delivery, like in the song "Objective Reality", where he sings about taking refuge in his own thoughts: "A space where time, time is irrelevant. I need a place to think. A place to heal, a place where I am free. This is where I want to remain forever. Indulging in my thoughts. Reveling in their splendor."
Tim's vocals are every bit as aggressive and harsh as one would expect for the genre, but he also has a bit of clarity in his tone where it's easier to understand his singing than some of his contemporaries. There's also a lot more variety in his voice, from hardcore shouts to guttural growls and higher screams. Paolo complements him quite well with his clean vocals, adding more variety to the mix.
Overall Impression — 8
Despite the changes to the band's sound, they still managed to retain much of the core aspect of their sound on "Halfway Human", yet still managed to advance it and evolve. This is one of the most mature albums to be attached to the "deathcore" label I've heard in a long time, and the guitar work on this album is masterful enough to keep me hooked even through some of the lacking songwriting and production. The addition of clean vocals to the band's sound is something that might raise the ire of some, especially after the massive disappointments levied by other bands in the genre, but they turned out to be quite tastefully implemented, and do very little to detract from the overall sound of this album, but do manage to make the band's sound slightly more accessible. Otherwise, this album is incredibly solid, and there really isn't a bad moment on it. Some of the songs aren't incredibly memorable, but this is hardly as big of a problem on this record as it is on some others.
I definitely have to give this record a recommendation. I was pleasantly surprised by this record, and I think you may be as well.