As any depressive will tell you, the coldest wars are often the ones you fight against yourself. Depression, to quote late cultural theorist Mark Fisher, is not merely sadness nor a state of mind, it’s a “(neuro)philosophical (dis)position.”
Through their inner pain, the depressive experiences the world as an evacuation of meaning and purpose, an overwhelming sense of truth and desire that reveals life to be entirely absent of joy and sorrow, an endless wasteland of profound emptiness.
Courtney LaPlante, vocalist and resident hype beast for Canadian metalcore juggernaut Spiritbox, has lived with depression throughout her life—so much so that she’s given it a name. As the affable frontwoman explained to Rock Sound late last year: “I find that naming a thing can shape the product.”
Taken in this way then, it’s easy to see how LaPlante’s depression shapes and informs the vast sonic texture of Eternal Blue, the band’s highly-anticipated debut album. It’s an expansive record that stresses fluidity and internal struggle in virtually every aspect, merging crushing dissonant lows and instrumental heaviness with ethereal ambience and aching melodies, simultaneously defying genre conventions while embracing the confidence of stylistic shifts.
With a prolonged release schedule and numerous singles racking up impressive streaming numbers before the album was even recorded—let alone announced—much of LaPlante’s inner battle will already be familiar to attentive listeners.
The album’s unintentional lead single “Holy Roller” functions as a bludgeoning conversation with the devil on her shoulder, where biblical allegories give voice to dark whispers of self-doubt, cast against seismic breakdowns and guitarist Mike Stringer’s piercing pick scrapes.
By contrast, other pre-release singles highlight the group’s ability to wield a more delicate touch. Album closer “Constance” serves as a mournful tribute to passed loved ones; LaPlante’s plaintive delivery wrestling with furtive shadows and dissident memories before the track’s prolonged outro threatens to collapse under the weight of its sluggish, down-tuned morass.
Effectively fusing these two disparate modes, “Secret Garden” accelerates tempo to great effect, bouncing Stringer’s guitar bends off Bill Crook’s crunching bottom end, propelling LaPlante’s emotional tension between inspiration and isolation up into the stratosphere.
Yet despite treading this familiar ground, Eternal Blue is not without its surprises. Opener “Sun Killer” kicks off with electronic glitches and an isolated rhythmic backbeat as LaPlante delivers a very convincing Evanescence audition, mastering the breathy heights of the indomitable Amy Lee with controlled ease.
While the band’s muscle eventually shows up on the track’s back end, it’s a more than fitting prelude for the synth-laden stomp to follow, with nu-metal rager “Hurt You” sporting one of the group’s catchiest choruses to date.
Elsewhere, “We Live In A Strange World” briefly wades into the kind of slick, glistening pop production that would feel completely at home on a Halsey or Now, Now record. This may sound like unchartered waters for Spiritbox, but by the time Stringer’s grinding riffage arrives alongside a swift tempo shift, LaPlante’s angelic high register ensures that the track’s playful post-hardcore design is fully realized.
It’s exactly the type of sonic curveball that aims to even out the album’s more outwardly aggressive gestures: the progressive djent dalliance of “Yellowjacket” (bolstered by an impressive guest feature from Architects’ mouthpiece Sam Carter); the pummeling, sliding-scale destruction of “Silk In The Strings;” and the dizzying, call-and-response of single and last-minute studio addition “Circle With Me.”
As LaPlante recently confessed to Kerrang, the trio proudly draw inspiration from the creative vision of a band like Deftones, where heaviness works best as a form of “compression”—both figurative and literal.
Stirring verse sections stretch open like sprawling landscape vistas on “The Summit,” resting on a push-pull dynamic that’s guided along by Stringer’s pulsing guitar lines and LaPlante’s elongated phrasing and cadence, dilating syllables in strange and alluring ways reminiscent of synthwave at its most delirious and hypnagogic.
“Halcyon” ripples with stunning lead progressions and haunting hooks anchored by the reflective revelry of LaPlante’s soaring chorus, before the track eventually coalesces towards a murky descent into madness.
And for all its forays into genre fusion, Eternal Blue’s title track best embodies Spiritbox’s penchant for seamless synthesis, weaving beauty into their brutality through flawless transitions and a devastating, staccato breakdown worthy of metalcore’s finest mosh purveyors.
Hype can be a hazardous substance when it comes to musical trajectory. While virality and critical adoration often help to clear the path for a newly anointed headliner in the making, the risk of straying too far from eager audience expectation is a perilous one.
Thankfully, Spiritbox’s debut is likely to convert even the most intractable of the band’s (few) doubters. The songwriting talent on display here is simply undeniable, fearlessly pushing them lightyears ahead of their peers as much as it continually strives to set them apart. Eternal Blue is a vital, self-assured effort from the Vancouver trio, as stylistically versatile as it is pleasurably idiosyncratic.
Preorder Eternal Blue here.