Let’s cut straight to the chase- I am a skeptic when it comes to this album. The overall sound is quite bland and can be encapsulated best as a cop-out: an overtly aural exploration in “sort-of-edgy-sound for sort-of-rebellious-people who can’t make up their mind whether to follow rules or not… oh fuck it, let’s be normies.” If I had to describe this album’s sound relative to one specific artist, I would say it reminds me of the newer Trivium (that, mixed with a generic melodic or classical metal band). Yeah, it might sound like a compliment—isn’t Trivium making it big?—but truth be told, the newest stuff by Trivium is- at best (in my opinion)- unfathomably generic. The band lost its touch a while back and watered itself down into a new genre that I cannot even describe.
But, I digress. Insolvency’s Antagonism of the Soul does have a lot of good things going for it, regardless of what has just been said. Perhaps it is best that I start with these so as not to lose all my credibility.
Of all the songs on the album, my favorites would probably have to be “Divided” and “Hope,” which is ironic in that both are classical interludes rather than metalcore. “Divided” is such a peaceful and beautiful way to start off a potentially violent album; the whole song is built on an ethereal soundscape, conjuring the notion of sitting by the sea near a darkly-leafed forest, with a light breeze, on a moonlit night. (Just add some stars, and you have a picturesque romantic getaway.) “Hope” is similar in that it is very peaceful and calming, and it sounds the way I would imagine a Disney soundtrack to be when an anthropomorphized animal is happening upon a clearing in the woods on a quiet night. The best part of “Hope” is actually not the instrumentation itself. Rather, “Hope’s” redeeming qualities stem from its placement as a stellar transition to the next song on the album, “I’m Revulsed by Death.” The two songs are undoubtedly connected and it was good organizational choice on the part of the band. And that leads me to one of the biggest strengths of the album—the structuring and ordering of the songs is so well thought-out. There’s wild songs, leading into two-part connected songs, spaced out by classical interludes within songs, all laced together in a meticulous order.
The dirty vocals are also worth commending, as they have a certain raw and passionate power to them. The dirty vocalist really stands out from his fellow musicians, most notably in that he can take on all kinds of exhalations, pitches, and intonations, varying from low ‘death metal’ growls to grainy screams that are characteristic of metalcore. This guy is either really versatile or has a hell of an audio engineer (if so, this guy can really layer and distort), or maybe it’s a combination of both. The bassist is also very notable in some songs, especially “Violation” and “I’m Revulsed by Death-” he adds just the right pulse and contrast to the rest of the sounds.
But unfortunately, that’s about where it ends for both good musicianship and good qualities of the album. The rest of the musicianship is bearable at best, and that stretches from the guitar solos to the generic drumming to the cringeworthy clean vocals. Overall, everything sounds just a little TOO cleaned up: little distortion or anything; no grime; hardly any edge. It’s just a very straightforward sound to the album, almost like what you would expect an orchestra to aim for. I can sense that the musicians here were classically trained, which makes it all the more disappointed that they never learned to take that knowledge about classical music and move it to the realm of metal, switching what they could with creative imagination.
First, the guitars—so, in middle school, you ever meet that kid who bullshitted his way through class and yet still somehow emerged with an okay grade and admiration from his peers? This kid was usually naturally smart but only within the realm of what was taught in school. And that’s how I felt about the guitar. The solos are very intricate, and that takes some talent, but the musical phrases don’t seem to resolve, in terms of music theory. In layman’s terms, this means that the solo feels incomplete or isn’t really that catchy, because it doesn’t feel like a follow-able or palatable tune. There’s no emotion in the sound—major, minor, sad, happy, what’s the difference? There’s no memorable string of notes. I’m not getting anything, and that’s what metalcore—or any music, really—is for.
And don’t even get me started on the clean vocalist—he subtracts from the sound and was clearly not trained on how to properly sing (use your diaphragm, and don’t use your ‘talking voice,’ please). There’s so little emotion in his voice that a shy goth teen couldn’t even beat the apathy. It’s mechanical. It’s even a little gripe-y. It could have been produced in a factory and put on a neverending conveyor belt because it doesn’t change tone or attitude, always follows a strict beat… and, worst yet, doesn’t stray into anything new. Even when the clean vocals were just background touches, I wanted to cover my ears and pray for myself (I’m not even religious).
… And now, the drummer. I notice that in nearly all the songs on the album, the drums don’t stray from the complexity level of the vocalists or guitarists. So, what I mean is this: When the guitarist plays something faster and more complex, the drums do, too. When the vocalist slows down and plays something simpler, the drums do, too. While the drummer should be a beat-keeper, he shouldn’t have to maintain the same level of simplicity or complexity as the music being played “over him” by the other instrumentalists. The drummer needs to experiment with taking on, for example, a more complicated and fast-paced rhythm under the slow and drawn-out singing of the clean vocalist. Just once in a while—please? Long story short, all the percussion is both too predictable and too afraid to stand out. It’s being trampled over throughout all the songs—there’s zero instances of a badass drum solo, or memorable sound at that.
So now, I’ve diagnosed the biggest problem with the album—the sounds are bland, tasteless, boring. All of it has been done before, and it’s being done again.. and again.. and again. Song after song on the album, nothing changes. I had a hard time distinguishing one song from the other, besides “Divided” and “Hope”, which were themselves actually quite similar.
Overall, the drawbacks prevail over the good. However, I do think the musicians really care about their art (especially through their training and focus on the album’s structure), so I do believe they have much room for improvement in the future. I’d love to check in on them in a couple of years and see where they’ve headed. For now, it’s probably time to hit the studio and think outside the box. (Ruth Xing)
For Fans Of: [New] Trivium, As I Lay Dying