Within The Ruins
(eOne Music/Good Fight)
There’s been way too much (digital) ink spilled over the “controversy” of clean vocals in metal, an “issue” recently fueled by Suicide Silence’s decision to embrace their love of Deftones/Slipknot. It’s a kind of rallying call for metal purists everywhere to find something to bitch and moan about. My take: it’s dumb because metal was founded with real vocalists who could actually sing (see Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, etc.). The issue has always been whether a band can actually find a way to make their music interesting and well-executed, vocals included; that’s it. Massachusetts-based tech deathcore group Within The Ruins have never felt like a band designed to please metal purists, as the inclusion of breakdowns and a guitar tone that falls between djent and video games are not part of a recipe aimed for the neck beard crowd. That said, they’ve steadily improved with each album, expanding on their base flavors: chug and shred. In fact, 2014’s Phenomena is still an excellent slab of tech-y metalcore, even if songs diverged into too-long chugfests by the end. Their fifth record is supposed to be an extension of their upward trajectory, but with a much greater melodic emphasis. So what are we left with?
Answer: the band’s best record yet with only a couple falters. What’s most impressive about Halfway Human is that it contains easily the best material the band has ever released, and new member Paolo Galang’s melodic pipes sound like the catalyst for the uptick in quality. “Beautiful Agony”, “Death of a Rockstar”, and “Objective Reality” mostly sound like top-tier tracks from 2014’s Phenomena, albeit with a much stronger thrash bend. Sure this thing still “djents” a little bit, but guitarist Joe Cocchi has really stepped up his game, as Halfway Human is stuffed with his hookiest and most complex work to date and a nice abundance of guitar solos (which fit the album much better than copious breakdowns). Sure, the chug/shred formula is still here, but Within The Ruins has seasoned their sound to near-perfection throughout. It’s a huge compliment to Cocchi that, unlike with past records, he doesn’t save his most interesting guitar work for the continuation of the band’s instrumental suite “Ataxia IV”.
In fact, just look to the stunning opener “Shape Shifter” as a signifier of the record’s subtle yet seriously phenomenal sonic shifts (say that five times). Without sacrificing an ounce of their trademark heaviness, it’s full of impressive guitar work, a neat solo, and it ends with a nice tremolo-picked breakdown (a trick they do over-utilize on the album, to be fair). It’s not like the band has totally rewritten their rule book, but the choice to emphasize melody (in all its forms) has found Within The Ruins turning into something that feels like a nice throwback to 80s thrash and glam metal. It’s a shift that suits the band’s horns-in-the-air mindset. There are a couple mid-album tunes that feel like a re-treat into the band’s early material, and they stick out like a sore thumb, even if they aren’t poor tracks. Overall, Within The Ruins continue to tweak their formula from album to album, but their latest minor reinvention is truly phenomenal.