Album: Hail Mary
Label: Artery Recordings
Author: Bloodshot Grub
iwrestledabearonce is not a well-respected band, but I picked up this review because really enjoyed one of their prior albums enough that I wanted to see what they were up to. IWABO seem to be known more for their schtick than their music, and while that perception is not entirely unjustified, Ruining It for Everybody was a surprisingly good album with numerous poignantly sentimental moments that were actually somehow reinforced by the juvenile humor. Yes, they’ve always been gimmicky pop-metalcore, but they’re also a band that went for something different and, at times, pulled it off. Even when they weren’t that great, they were at least interesting. Now it seems they’ve decided to stay interesting by subverting expectations of being interesting… by being less interesting. They’ve dropped the schtick on this one and are aiming to be taken seriously, to be judged on their musical merits alone.
IWABO’s current incarnation is a sort of spastic deathcore with some electronics and Bungle-esque experimental influences, and which occasionally goes full-on pop. Even at their best, it’s easy to see why that approach hasn’t won them much adulation. But as deathcore goes, this is an enjoyable album with some significant flaws. Vocalist Courtney LaPlante’s harsh vocals are typical of the genre, and are competent but unremarkable. Her cleans are much the same, though the delivery is strong. Riffs are mostly drawn from the deathcore/mathcore playbook (with notable similarities to The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza and Ion Dissonance), and while they’re rarely especially inventive, they at least have a personality. Many of them are quite compelling in the context of the music, but few would stand on their own. The songwriting is one of the album’s stronger elements, with a variety of clever twists and turns that defy expectations without seeming out of place or breaking the cohesion of the music.
By this point I’m sure I’ve fully damned this album with faint praise, but in case anyone is still on the fence, I can at least offer one outright criticism: the production. I don’t need to go into the details on the loudness war here. Suffice to say that this one is a victim (or, depending on how one looks at it, another enemy soldier). For a band aiming for contrast and spasticity, they seem entirely alright with everything being as loud as possible, all the time. It’s a shame, because a little bit of dynamic nuance would have gone a long way towards highlighting the album’s strong sound design, emphasizing the contrasts between their ideas, and mitigating the music’s weaknesses. These are not the kind of riffs that are easily tolerated once listening fatigue has set in.
The album’s first single, “Gift of Death,” is, by a wide margin, the weakest track on the album. Elements of weirdness (fast tapping lines in parallel minor 9ths, which are used throughout the album but usually to better effect) are dropped in seemingly for their own sake. The video, a formula empty-warehouse-with-shaky-cam affair, does it no favors. Turns out they’re still entirely adept at looking stupid, although this time around that wasn’t what they were aiming for. After I first watched it, despite my aforementioned prior interest, I was ready to pan the entire thing, and was entirely surprised to find that they’ve still got good ideas. Make no mistake, this is not especially mature music. I don’t mean immature in the sense of their now-abandoned juvenile sense of humor, but rather in terms of the musical content itself. The part of me that enjoys this music is the same part that wrote awful poetry when I was 14. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s bad, and in this case, I think they’ve done quite well at writing angsty music that isn’t pandering and banal (not that you’d know it from watching or listening to “Gift of Death”). For those interested in deathcore, Hail Mary may not be the most stellar example of the genre, but it’s absolutely worth a listen.
– Bloodshot Grub