[8 January 2014]
With their nerdy propensity to create the types of polyrhythms and staccato riffs known only to extraterrestrials and the Swedish masterminds in Meshuggah, bands labelled as “Djent” (the winner of the stupid genre title award) tend to forget the importance of injecting intensity into their music. Pushing the boundaries of technical musicianship was and still is of fundamental importance to Meshuggah, but so too is maintaining terrifying levels of aggression; a lesson learned from the thrash metal bands Meshuggah looked up to during their formative days at the tail-end of the ‘80s. It now seems as if the bands littering – and often defecating on – the post-Meshuggah landscape are too preoccupied with their 50-string guitars and what the guys in Periphery and Tesseract are doing to acknowledge and implement this essential songwriting ingredient.
The basis for the creative development of Periphery and Tesseract boils down to the fact that both bands have peered past the glare of their base influence and have moved in more melodic directions, adding definition to their sound. And yes, neither band is what you would call “intense” yet they still intrigue in their own way, but they’re exceptions to the djent rule. For that reason, a gap still remains the metalwork for a band who utilizes the lurching chokeholds that Meshuggah patented while adding nuance and raising the intensity of their music to blood-boiling point. And the British band Heart of a Coward may just fill that weeping void, because Severance, their second album, is full of staccato-heavy riff storms and their intensity, taken straight from UK hardcore, is tangible and at times, shockingly so.
Severance is a sizable step up from their 2012 debut Hope and Hindrance, an album that did nothing to suggest that these guys would smash through the scene like they have done a year later. What makes this album worth your time is that, like Periphery and Tesseract, Heart of a Coward refuse to just unimaginatively embezzle Nothing’s ground-splitting grooves, though similar mechanical syncopations can be heard throughout: most distinctly during the monstrous “Mirrors”. Additionally, the young British band are well versed in eerie, Deftones-esque melodicism, as “Distance”, featuring ex-SikTh vocalist Justin Hill on crooning duties, proves: The song vaults between graceful gestures and unpredictable outbursts, interposed by an explosive end-breakdown created to rattle every tooth in your head.
Heart of a Coward are also adept at layering ethereal guitar lines on top of those perma-contorting, chromatic riffs and jackhammer rhythms we’ve come to know all too well. Bind all this together and it produces a huge sonic boom heard the moment “Monstro” startles all with its opening whip-crack drum fill. The boom continues to reverberate with “Prey”, a song fuelled on the same fiery angst Slipknot have mined to great success in the past; its chorus out-soaring Architects’ recent attempts at flying high. Metalcore executed with zeal forms the groundwork for “Nauseam”, and “Deadweight” is brimming with hardcore beat-downs accentuated by the apoplectic grooves that signal its beginning. And while breakdowns are bountiful during “Deadweight” and throughout Severance in general, because they are discharged with seismic force and the transitions to and from are invisible, very rarely does it sound as if the breakdowns are being shoehorned into the songs to disguise a lack of songwriting imagination or direction.
Vocalist Jamie Grahams (ex-Sylosis) plays a considerable role in blending each staggering transition. His passionate performance – with welcome enunciation – matches the might of the music and gives stability to the tempo changes of songs like “Psychopant” and “Desensitise”. Interestingly, his role in the band never takes away from the off-kilter mechanics of the guitars and drums: His death-growls and larynx-purging shouts act as an added percussive punch to each bulldozing movement, and he is also talented enough to emit fantastic choruses of the Killswitch Engage variety, best highlighted by “Desensitise”.
Such purpose, poise, power, and panache are not attributes you would often associate with a band at such early stages of their development, but Heart of a Coward firmly hold all of these traits within their grasp. Because of the amount of confidence resonating off of Severance, it’s difficult to find a whole lot of fault with this album – although the lyrics can come across as trite at times and your actual enjoyment will hinge on the level of tolerance you have for both djent and metalcore. But even if you despise the banality that riddles each of those genres, this Milton-Keynes mob’s vehemence might just change your opinion, as their second album callously severs the ties between the band and the plethora of djent/metalcore also-rans prowling around the United Kingdom at present.