Album Review: Signs Of The Swarm – Amongst the Low and Empty

4.5/5

I think often about what it takes to enjoy certain types of music as I get older. The sheer extremity, novelty, or whatever adjective that ends in “y” and feels neckbeard-y, an album had would be directly related to how much I enjoyed it. In my teens and early 20s, things that felt dangerous or progressive were things I sought, like being one of those people in the know about whatever cool nerd thing it was at the time.

That high of being in tune with a group with numbers in the hundreds on message boards wanes as you get closer to a 20-year high school reunion. Indeed, as I creep ever closer to 40 (there’s not much running now), what matters most is usually more aligned to boring adjectives like enjoyability or how often a metal album gets me to make that infamous stank face—You know, the one that looks like you just released a glorious coffee deposit, Leeroy Jenkins-style. Lame shit such as, “Do I like what I am listening to?”

Enter Pittsburgh’s Signs Of The Swarm, who recently revealed their first for new label Century Media (and fifth overall), Amongst the Low and Empty. Considering they are amongst the few bands that I call part of the Lorna Shore Ecosystem®, where one of their past members left for Lorna Shore, it’s no surprise that we have deathcore on our hands here.

What is a surprise is how no Signs Of The Swarm record is the same, as the band have grown away from a slam-ish beginning into something a bit more shapeshifting and modern. Hints of that dreaded djent abound, though there’s also a clear influence from the first generation of deathcore, i.e., Whitechapel, Suicide Silence, and Carnifex, albeit with a focus on more progressive songwriting amongst vocalist David Simonich’s widescreen vocal talents. To call him a Will Ramos clone would be completely unfair, though the extended breakdown in the title track does showcase an excellent vocal diversity. One of the pitches sounds like something from a 2010 zombie game, and I mean that as a compliment.

The album starts out wonderfully, with four tracks that focus on groove above all else, and highlight an absurdly high stank-face-per-minute ratio. Were it not for the relatively mid songs in the record’s mid-point—“Between Fire and Stone” and “Shackles Like Talons”—there’d really be little to complain about. “Dreamkiller” and “The Witch Beckons” are arguably the album’s best one-two punch and highlight the diversity on display here, as the former veers into a power metal coda and the latter’s killer Polish death metal groove results in a neck-whipper of mammoth proportions.

Album closer “Malady” serves as a clear statement of future intent for a band who wants to lean on diversity and technicality going forward; think of this djentcore as a very American interpretation of Humanity’s Last Breath’s style. It’s clear that Signs Of The Swarm listened to a lot of Meshuggah in the lead up to this record. Amongst the Low and Empty is all the better for this new emphasis on progressive rhythmic interplay.

Ultimately though, this is a record best enjoyed not because of a complex and measured analysis or a historical understanding of third-wave deathcore; it’s an album designed to just be played loudly for a good old-fashioned chiropractic workout. It’s clear from the onset that Signs Of The Swarm were most focused on creating songs they flat-out enjoyed listening to, and as an aging fan of heavy music, that’s more than enough for me. This is arguably the most purely enjoyable deathcore record in years.

Order the album at this location.

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