Album reviewed by Daniel McDonald
Sponsored by Christian Metal-Bro Alliance
Album released on 24 June 2014
via Facedown Records
Produced and engineered by Josh Schroeder
at Random Awesome
Cover art by Dave Quiggle
3. Bear These Scars
4. Ego Trip (featuring Ryan Kirby from FIT FOR A KING)
5. The Pain I Feel
6. The First Amendment
7. Saturday Night Special
8. Cop Out (featuring Nick Arthur from MOLOTOV SOLUTION)
9. Eyes of Eternity
10. Death Sentence
12. We’re Not The Victims
John Healy – Lead Vocals
Luke Healy – Guitar
Trevor Kope – Guitar
Jacob Wilder – Drums
Death Sentence is the sophomore release by Pittsburgh, Pennsylvanian hardcore outfit, THOSE WHO FEAR. Their debut album, Unholy Anger, was the first album I decided to review and it’s been a staple of my playlists ever since. Especially on what I have dubbed Hardcore Hump Day (Wednesday’s) – when I smash through the awesome albums from label mates LEADERS, COLOSSUS, GIDEON and ALTARS with a dash of IMPENDING DOOM to shake it up a little! I am so looking forward to adding this album to the mix!
If you’re like me, you would have seen Facedown Records’ posting of a teaser to the song “Bruised” on YouTube and had your face melted by the anticipation. Whilst it was a mere snippet, it was promise of the quality new heavy to come. As per the norm, I waited for the release date announcement and immediately placed my order for a hardcore hardcopy through the good men at Utopia Records in Sydney.
My thoughts on THOSE WHO FEAR’s last album was that it was an above-average first effort and stood a head taller than most hardcore acts in the ether. Since then, I have grown to love Unholy Anger even more, but I maintain my original synopsis was on target. So, how does Death Sentence compare?
The first thing of note is the line-up adjustment with new drummer, Jacob Wilder. Given some of the really unique patterns given out by the last drummer, Josh Miller, I had my reservations. I mean the drum work and timing signatures on their song “Burn” from Unholy Anger is some of the best around. I also loved seeing the technique displayed in the music video. But, we’ll come back to this point later on.
Death Sentence’s intriduction track, “Processed” edges you in through a sound bite simulation of a live show. You can very easily imagine standing shoulder-to-shoulder with your mates getting ready to enjoy a powerhouse set from one of Facedown’s finest hardcore acts (If they ever land in Australia, this would become a reality). After a few seconds, this segways into wordless and cleanly produced meat grinder metal magic in the vein of US east coast hardcore.
Following the intro track, you’re lead seamlessly into the second track which was teased by Facedown in the lead up to the album’s release, “Bruised”. This is where you get to weigh up the changes in THOSE WHO FEAR’s sound. The song in itself is a heavy hitting hardcore track with each element working overtime to deliver a song with guitar layers adding a sense of urgency to the song. It put me in mind of alarms or sirens wailing in the background.
Death Sentence’s material doesn’t stray far from what they have released in the past, but with fresh nuances that set it apart and elevate it from their established sound. You very much get the sense that nothing has been subtracted and that THOSE WHO FEAR have added modest elements that increase the appeal for me. There’s a more stable use of supporting sound to hold the sections together like the most awesome gravy all over your steak dinner.
As you expect from a true hardcore album, there is no great abundance of melody, but there is definitely a greater dynamic in the songs. By this I mean a greater range between the frequent bass laden brutal breakdowns to the high ended power-driven hum of the guitars, but not too much to move it away from the beloved solid genre of hardcore metal.
In terms of the new drummer, I maintain my statement that nothing has been subtracted from the abilities and output of the band. At the same time I felt that there was no amazing standout drum-on-its-own moments. The reason I stand by my earlier statement is because there are some amazing stand out team moments when the band bind together in coordinated unmerciful metal heavy. A feat which which I wonder would have gelled together as well with the previous line up. I refer especially to the song “Bear These Scars” at the 1:32 mark; here you get 10+ seconds of face-punching nose-bleeding heavy hardcore. It’s amazing.
Whenever I hear a metal album (regardless of genre), I am always delighted to hear a distinct lack of clean vocals. As with their debut, Death Sentence has no clean vocals to speak of. Vocalist, John Healy’s, gravelly rasp-roar is akin to the snarling growl of the biggest baddest junk yard guard dog you ever heard. It’s off its chain and is bearing down on you with teeth bared and a trail of foaming aggression dripping from its snapping maw – I love it! The great vocals are definitely one aspect that set THOSE WHO FEAR apart from their contemporaries.
I should also mention the use of notable guest vocals on the album, one being Ryan Kirby from metalcore outfit, FIT FOR A KING, on the track “Ego Trip” and the other being Nick Arthur from MOLOTOV SOLUTION on “Cop Out”. I was initially hesitant when hearing THOSE WHO FEAR had used guest vox, but I think they managed it well, especially in the case of Kirby’s cameo. It never overpowered the songs and only seemed to complement the brutal sound.
Thematically, the album’s lyrics cover themes ranging from being reborn in Christ and wanting to forget the mistakes and pains of the past, calling out the unjustly proud, being unashamed of our struggles as Christians, drug addiction and other issues that straddle the line between personal conviction of social consequence. The title track, “Death Sentence”, lays it all out and in the process sums up the album’s striking point: “Born into a death sentence. I’m dead to this life. I’m dead to this world. I’m dead to all I’ve ever been. I’m dead to these lies. I’m dead to this sin. I’ve found new life you’ll never win. You’re all afraid to die but why. I’m more afraid to live. We survive in Him”
As noted above, THOSE WHO FEAR are not shy to stand clear and firm in their beliefs. This provided a priceless encouragement to me as a Christian. I love love love it! Enough said, really.
4.5 out of 5 stars
So, there you have it. I started my reviewing habit with THOSE WHO FEAR’s debut, Unholy Anger, and it is an absolute honour to be writing a review of their sophomore effort. Death Sentence is consistently brutal whilst allowing more movement within their sound. This album will be a very welcome addition to my collection. THOSE WHO FEAR have continued to elevate above the hardcore crowd and will be an act to keep a very close eye on in the years to come. I’m already excited about their next release and what it will sound like. All credit to Facedown Records for finding, signing and supporting such an amazing quality hardcore act like this.
God bless, Bros and Brodettes!
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