[13th January 2013]
04. Wake The Apathetic
05. Dreadful Eyes
07. He Spreads Hypocrisy
09. Palm Leaves Readers
Listening to Straight On Target’s new record, Pharmakos, I was compelled to reflect on my sordid past as a metal fan. A mere five years ago, I was a college sophomore, trying to find my sea legs, on the deck of a taste ship afloat on an ocean of extreme music. Or something like that. Please excuse this extended metaphor. Anyway, at some point, I dropped anchor and put in at a rather disreputable port of call by the name of “deathcore”. Like a pasty tourist vacationing on a tropical island, I took in the culture, feasting on all manner of foreign riffs and exotic breakdowns. And also like a pasty tourist, I eventually got sunburn and gastroenteritis and went home.
At first blush, Italy’s Straight On Target would fit right into the bulging cohort of me-too deathcore bands of the mid-to-late 00s. Upon closer examination, it becomes clear that their recent LP, Pharmakos, belongs to the ever-growing contingent of purposeless deathcore bands, struggling to find new ways to flog one of extreme music’s most decayed horse corpses. From the wholly unnecessary noise intro, “Theta”, to the feedback-and-sample-ridden outro, “Palm Leaves Readers”, Pharmakos is an exercise in vacuousness, managing to stumble headlong into almost every deathcore pitfall imaginable.
Immediately apparent is the band’s reliance on sub drops to make songs sound heavy. At times, the absence of sub drops becomes more noticeable than their presence, as the low-end thins out to the point of non-existence. This is, in part, due to the mixing style of the album; like many deathcore and metalcore releases of the past half-decade, Pharmakos is overproduced and sterile, lacking the faintest trace dynamic or texture. The down-tuned guitars wash out the character of the bass, leaving nothing but homogenized chunks of insipid chugging, peppered with enough bass drops to fill a dubstep record. Unafraid to copy even the most moronic of trends, Straight On Target even tosses in the occasional electronica-derived digital effect to augment the band’s already impressively stale sound.
Perhaps the best thing that can be said of Straight On Target is that they can effectively plug in instruments and record an album. Indeed, they must be commended for being physically capable of playing music; now, if only that music were good. At its knuckle-dragging center, Pharmakos is a frustratingly simple Mad Lib of bad deathcore tropes, exhibiting an absolute absence of original thought. Although Straight On Target tries to nod at more technically-minded bands, aping some of the most-superficial aspects of the djent movement, they succeed only in demonstrating their inability to come up with anything fresh – The Faceless they are not. Despite attempts at bludgeoning the listener into submission with the pervasive heaviness of their brutal colleagues, Straight On Target manages only to smother any hope that one might sleep through the thirty-five tortuous minutes that comprise Pharmakos – The Acacia Strain they are not.
On Pharmakos, there are no standout riffs, no interesting moments, and no surprising choices. The vocals are the height of monotony, growled in unchanging patterns with no inflection and no emotion but a vague tough-guy posturing. The guitar playing is singularly lazy, an unbroken chain of vapid chugging and poorly-conceived tremolo-picked passages. The drumming is much as one would imagine if told to conjure up an album-full of prototypically generic deathcore percussion.
The most damning issue with Pharmakos is its propensity to inflict public-access television levels of boredom on any creature in earshot. By the time Straight On Target launches into their twelfth uninspired breakdown, listeners may experience the release of a trickle of drool from the corner of their slackened mouths. If this occurs to you, forgive yourself – it is not your fault. Deathcore generally works best when it leans either to the heavily technical side or to the heavy drinking side, creating an appealing combination of hardcore’s immediacy and death metal’s complexity. Deathcore should be somewhat enjoyable to listen to – I dare-say even fun. Unfortunately, Straight On Target misses the mark completely; the listening experience of Pharmakos may be approximated by repeatedly bashing one’s clenched teeth against a firm surface.
Pharmakos is an album that need never have been recorded. It has nothing to offer, but a textbook example of the problems that have plagued deathcore for years. Bands like Straight On Target, with their fetishistic love of generic breakdowns and obnoxious sub drops, helped to make deathcore the joke it has become. Even my old, mosh-ready, college self would fail to derive pleasure from the abysmal time sink that is Pharmakos. Suffice it to say, this album is not recommended.