Jamey Jasta has made a career out of turning shouted screeds into adrenaline-fuelled motivational seminars, spitting the truth in the form of inspiring affirmations on the value of personal growth and overcoming adversity. At this point, the Hatebreed frontman, podcaster, and former Headbangers Ball host is essentially the hardcore Tony Robbins. So, in this way, listening to a new Hatebreed record in 2020 is as much an exercise in therapeutic self-determination as it is exhilarating and blood-pumping. And unfortunately, therein lies the rub.
Let’s look at the title track for their eighth studio album, Weight of the False Self. The song starts with a fade-in guitar riff before drummer Matt Byrne’s pounding kick drum cuts through the mix, echoing the pump–pump–pump of your (no doubt) slightly elevated heart rate. Next, Jasta steps up to the plate and lays down his metallic hardcore mantra: “If you want to make a difference in the world it means/You have to be different from the world you see/Free yourself from burdens that you know exist/Don’t carry the curse of the fatalist.”
Serving to drive home the stakes of this anti-pessimistic message, the band then launch into furious stomping rhythms and death-metal flavoured leads, as Jasta doubles-down on the above passage not once, not twice, but four times throughout the track’s two minutes, forty-three seconds runtime. For a group that once soundtracked a thousand barfights with the nihilistic call for anarchy, “Destroy Everything,” this might feel somewhat like a change of pace.
And it’s this philosophical push-pull that sits at the heart of their new LP. In the album’s promotional material, Jasta proclaims that “Seen or unseen, everyone is carrying a burden. The music we love helps us bear the weight.” Now, this is undoubtedly a relatable observation and one that’s also fitting for our unconventional times. However, if Hatebreed are genuinely able to help us carry this existential load, how does the structural integrity of Weight of the False Self hold up?
Returning to long-time collaborator Zeuss, who added beefy production to much of the band’s mid-late 00s output, there are many throwback elements on Weight of the False Self. “Instinctive (Slaughterlust)” and “Set It Right (Start with Yourself)” let Jasta’s vocal phrasing and cadence weave in and out of charging chord progressions, stark tempo changes, and gang vocal chants, echoing the fist-pumping anthems of 2003’s The Rise of Brutality.
Guitarists Wayne Lozinak and Frank Novinec also take the time to show their debt to thrash’s greats, with live-wire solos in “Dig Your Way Out” and “A Stroke of Red,” alongside the headbang-worthy leads in “This I Earned”. Recalling their beatdown glory days, heavy ragers like “The Herd Will Scatter” and “Wings of the Vulture” evoke the sonic chaos of the pit, with titanic chugs and thick, rumbling bass notes from Chris Beattie. Other tracks, like “Cling To Life’ and closer “Invoking Dominance” find Hatebreed incorporating a modern metal sound, with atmospheric passages, throttling double-kick and soaring clean refrains.
In terms of musical quality, Weight of the False Self is heavier than a bag of anvils and is sure to rip in a live setting (whenever that may be). Twenty-five years into their career, no one is questioning Hatebreed’s ability to keep things heavy. The band operate like a finely tuned machine, and even their so-so albums sit head and shoulders above their lesser contemporaries. So, in this respect, their eighth LP easily clears that admittedly low bar.
And yet, ultimately, Weight of the False Self lacks the hunger and desperation that made their early catalogue entries such vital listening for pissed-off fans. There’s little here that warrants repeat listening or instant recognition. Most listeners don’t feel content right now, and nor should we. The world continues to shit itself almost daily, and channelling some of our surplus range and anger might just be a healthy form of output. After all, we’re not talking about Safebreed, or Respectbreed, or even Pull-Yourself-Up-By-Your-Bootstraps-breed. This is Hatebreed.
While I can’t begrudge the band their success or for wanting to progress creatively (as they deserve all of it and should be in control of their musical destiny), their debut album sums up my feelings on Weight of the False Self better than I ever could: Satisfaction is the death of desire.
Pre-order Weight of the False Self here.