As a genre, metal has almost always had a whipping boy, a subgenre that constantly gets criticized as being “false” and destroying metal. In the past, it’s been hair metal, nu metal, and metalcore. The newest whipping boy is deathcore, the latest trend of bands delivering the most brutal, pummeling, intense music possible. And while deathcore may not actually be destroying metal, it has definitely lost its originality very quickly. Given the number of bands playing that style now, combined with the rather limited range of musical options, it didn’t take long for the deathcore sound to become stale and boring. As such, most deathcore bands don’t have many individual characteristics, and it’s hard to distinguish one from another. Such is the case with Carnifex, a California-based deathcore quintet signed to Victory Records. Their third full-length record, Hell Chose Me, is more of the same from a band already following a very simplistic formula.
Hell Chose Me has much of what you’d expect from a standard deathcore album. The guitars are tuned down beyond reasonable levels for most metal bands, and most of the riffs are very one-dimensional and easily forgotten. The vocals range from basement-level grunts to the much-maligned deathcore “pig squeal”, which becomes grating and harsh on the ears very quickly. Neither style makes understanding the lyrics even a remote possibility in most cases. The bass is barely even present in the mix, only becoming perceptible when the guitars aren’t playing. The song structures alternate between blindingly fast sections and sludge-laden, impossibly slow breakdowns that last entirely too long to even be called breakdowns. There are even some songs where the entire song is basically an extended breakdown, which defeats the purpose of having one in the first place.
However, to the band’s credit, there is an acoustic intro to the track “Heartless” and an acoustic outro on album closer “Genocide Initiative”, both of which help to break up the pace and give listeners a short rest from the sonic beatdown. And even with their complete lack of composition skills, the band are remarkably tight with their playing, staying together through very complex time changes and patterns. Most of this is due to drummer Shawn Cameron, who holds the songs together with his razor-sharp drumming technique.
Carnifex do change one thing about their sound since their last album, The Diseased and the Poisoned, and that is their lyrical content. Although most listeners wouldn’t be able to tell without the assistance of printed lyrics, the lyrics on Hell Chose Me almost exclusively deal with anti-religion and anti-establishment topics. While these topics are not new in metal, they are not commonly seen in deathcore, since most deathcore bands deal with violence and murder in their lyrics to match the ferocity on their music. In some ways, these new lyrics help Carnifex to gain an identity apart from their peers, but the band will need to work hard to avoid having these lyrics seem like a gimmick to attract more listeners.
Diehard fans of deathcore will likely call this record one of the best records of the year, but for other metal fans who aren’t buying into the hype, this is just another in a long series of deathcore albums that do nothing but assault the eardrums of listeners with the same tired breakdowns and dissonant patterns of the past. Carnifex are good at what they do, but Hell Chose Me doesn’t offer anything new or different, and like most other deathcore bands, that will always be their biggest shortcoming.