Bloodwork, Texas in July’s 4th album and the first to feature their new line-up, is a mallet swung by a perpetual motion machine. Blunt, thick, heavy and inexhaustible, it never stops, never lets up and, yet, never moves forward. The drums thunder relentlessly but, for all of the little rhythmic flourishes the drummer throws in, never actually sound very different. Though there’s power in newcomer J.T. Cavey’s vocals, it’s a power that’s not channeled to compliment the instrumentation or drive home the lyrics, settling instead to bludgeon the listener into submission. In those instances where the guitar has not been subsumed by the vocals and drums it’s capable of only the same, stale guitar solos that have been heard a thousand times before in a thousand other metalcore albums and which sound here, for all of their insistence on themselves, for all of their crowding and control, like a kind of sonic fascism. It is an album without a sense of pacing, one that insists so much on itself and its image that it does not want to give you time to stop and think because then you might actually notice how boring it really is.
There are promising spots, here, such as the instrumental “Decamilli”, a piece that actually takes time to build from those initial anxious shudders on the guitar and worried stabs of percussion to a fuller sound, one where the band seems to understand that there’s value in modulating tone and in pulling back, that an explosive blast can be followed by a subdued stretch of focused instrumentation and that it is, in fact, fine for a song to fade out. Moments in “Inner Demon” hint at a similar understanding, but the relief’s neither as well-placed as it should be nor really all that promising. Like the rest of the album, the techniques and style on display here are par for the metal-core course: sometimes our vocalist tries to rise above the morass of the music with a lighter, airier register or the instrumentation drops out of the track in order to emphasize the vocals, there’s the occasional grasping after more melodic arrangements, but it’s all been done a thousand times before by a thousand other bands.
Which is actually one of the reasons that I find music which fits so cleanly into a genre so disappointing, especially when music fits into a genre as rigidly defined and traditional as metalcore. It’s as if Texas and July and all of their ilk — August Burns Red, Five Finger Deathpunch, As I Lay Dying and all the rest of the breed — are devoted to sacred writ. As if to change up the approach and incorporate elements from beyond their incestuous circle, to go beyond the patterns established by the Church Fathers Pantera, might somehow devalue their art. It’s as if admitting that there is something wrong in sounding exactly like the rest of you and yours; there’s an ugly kind of tribalism at play which leads to incest and stagnation, a whole genre gone septic with reverence and a kind of cultural distrust. It makes you wonder if the reason the whole style is so needlessly aggressive and its members are so eager to prove just how hard they are is out of a kind of insecurity or inherent limitation.
Regardless of the reasons, though, Bloodwork is an album of little merit and deserving of little attention. If you like feeling like you’ve been pounded with the aural equivalent of a meat tenderizer for an hour, by all means, enjoy. If your aspirations are otherwise, though, ignore it: another twenty nearly identical albums should be on their way in.