In my last review I made a prediction about “the next big thing”…singsongy metalcorish rock in the vein of cleanly sung Killswitch Engage, and how I felt like I was already tired of it even before I have heard it a lot. Well this time I feel like I am reviewing the “the next real thing”, which is to say the style of metal and hardcore that will lack the appeal of the lovely voiced metalcore acts because of its roughness, but which contains the depth and movement the lovelies may lack. The bands that deliver this are not necessarily sound alikes, but they share a certain set of ingredients that make them heartier than many of their peers. Burst, Mastodon, Burnt by the Sun, Meatjack, and now Swarm of the Lotus seem joined by this mystery recipe.
I come from a background of a certain alternative radio station here in Utah that would play cutting edge metal and punk and hardcore – the real indy shit. It’s the place where I first heard Metallica, Slayer, Exodus, Venom…and bands like Tad, Bad Religion, Swiz and Fugazi. That last act, Fugazi struck me immediately as one of the best American bands I had ever heard. And I hear a lot of Fugazi in the best acts with a hardcore leaning that have been crossing my desk lately. Does a real connection exist? Couldn’t tell ya, but whether real or imagined it’s meant as a compliment.
With SOTL you get a band where the drums play a major part in the way the compositions turn out, taking every opportunity to play with the rhythms and pacing, creating a latticework of alternately jazzy-funky piledriving beats with pure Zeppelinesque steroid bashing. The riffs and chords surround this structure with a caustic style that maintains the edge perfectly. The vocalist is relentless in his style of screaming desperation.
The songs themselves are written with the crushing changeup in mind, setting you up with bouncy riffs, then baseball batting your head with sudden sludgy funked out passages. Probably my favorite example of this is From Embers, a spacey-yet-down-to-earth monster of a song. It plays with volume and intensity the way the government plays with facts and figures; fast and loose. The gripe here is that the songs are longish and you can become numbed to the effects after a while, even though the group does a good job of mixing things up.
The production is basement fresh. The drums sound enormous and biological, the guitars are acidic and crunchy, and the vocals are mixed at about the perfect level, neither dominating nor being dominated. Once again, the band is the heaviness, not the studio.
Bottom Line: A damn good record that, while a little long, is perfectly good for it, the quality of performance and production makes it worth the bits that drag. I hope this is more of a beginning exploration of what this style of metal and hardcore has to offer than the whole shebang. I can hear so much potential in it and in the bands that seem to be playing it, I will become very bitter if they don’t push the ideas to unexpected places in the future. There is a wealth of possibilities here, and some great acts to find it. As for Swarm of the Lotus, I highly recommend it.