[26th February 2013]
[Entertainment One/Good Fight]
03. Feeding Frenzy
04. New Holy War
05. The Charm
06. Ataxia II
08. I, Blashpheme
09. Absolute Hell
Deathcore. Say it loud and there’s music playing. Say it soft and it’s almost like praying. Deathcore.
After having read that line, genre purists have skipped this review, scenesters have perked up their ears, and musical theater nerds have big smiles plastered across their faces. There may be no subgenre of extreme music more polarizing than deathcore. The base-born seed of death metal and metalcore, it inspires violent devotion and virulent hatred in seemingly equal measure. There are some deathcore bands, however, that manage to rise above the bloody fray of genre bashing and wring some measure of grudging acceptance from the metal establishment. Within the Ruins may be one such band. The Massachusetts quartet’s third studio album, Elite, is one of deathcore’s best offerings of late and, although it will not pass muster with those metal minutemen who patrol the genre’s borders, it is an altogether enjoyable record.
Once a band has crafted a fresh and easily-identifiable style, there is precious little incentive to deviate from that established sound, and from the chug salvo that is album opener “Terminal”, it becomes clear that Within the Ruins are in no hurry to change. Indeed, Elite plays like a sequel to 2010’s Invade, going so far as to feature “Ataxia II”, a sequel to an instrumental track on that record. Like the band’s previous releases, this album’s (over)production is in keeping with modern trends; every element is clear and clean to the point of sterility. Fortunately, this type of technically-minded deathcore tends to suffer less — or benefit more — from the computerized treatment. The downside to this production methodology is an increase in overall homogeneity; as recording idiosyncrasies are smoothed out, songs lose some of their individual character.
Like most successful and enduring metalcore and deathcore acts, the band has found ways to create unique takes on fusion genres overcrowded with imitators. In these over-saturated markets, it’s less that the best bands escape the tropes of the genre, than that they employ the tropes to their own musical ends. There is no clearer example of this than the infamous breakdown, both the boon and bane of the “core” community. For competent composers, the breakdown is merely another tool in the kit, something that must serve the song for it to possess any value. However, in the hands of immature or lazy songwriters, breakdowns can become ends in themselves, popping up too frequently or with barely any pretext. While Elite skirts the line of breakdown excess, it generally avoids the pointless, shoehorned-in mosh portions that plague countless deathcore releases.
The secret sauce on Within the Ruins’ tech-deathcore burger is the band’s stockpile of riffs. Axeman Joe Cocchi’s leads are as playful as they are complex, providing a much-needed counterbalance to the heavy, chugging, chord patterns that form Elite’s backbone. This is the band’s main appeal; the element that separates them from the pack. Unlike so many technical deathcore also-rans, bogged-down by bombast, Within the Ruins remember that this kind of music should provide some form of entertainment. Elite is overflowing with lively leads and catchy solos, demonstrating how talent and wit can help a band push beyond the conventions of metalcore and deathcore to create something listenable and fun.
On Elite, Within the Ruins continue to court controversy with their confrontational, anti-religion lyrics. Of course, the first full song on Invade was about fighting God, so titles like “New Holy War” and “I, Blaspheme” will not surprise fans of the band’s previous efforts. While well-delivered and occasionally compelling Elite’s lyrics are far from literature, sometimes veering dangerously close to the comedic, as is the case with its title track; when Tim Goergen repeatedly screams “We are elite!”, it sounds more laughable than brutal. Nonetheless, writing songs about topics other than violence, misogyny, or other assorted tough guy nonsense puts Within the Ruins ahead of many of their genre contemporaries.
Elite will not please everyone. Anyone opposed to pick-scrapes or breakdowns will hate this record out of hand. For those with a generally positive view of the “Sumeriancore” wave of the late aughts, the album represents a welcome return to that style of technical deathcore. Within the Ruins are some of the best in the deathcore game and, although its overall effect is weakened by a lack of variety, Elite contains enough delightful guitar parts and pit-provoking mosh sections to satisfy almost any fan of the genre.