Gravebloom - The Acacia Strain
Artist: The Acacia Strain
Review by Steve Jenkins
The Acacia Strain’s career has been a perplexing one to say the least. As one of the early bands to join the deathcore wave of the early 2000’s, they were also one of the first to feel the wave of hate emanating from metal fans. The Acacia Strain were always on the simple side of deathcore, and as time and albums went by they seemed to drop the few actual death metal influences they had. They don’t use blast beats, technical riffing, or tremolo picking. Their only real link to deathcore is the prominent use of breakdowns and an extremely bottom heavy sound, not to mention vocalist Vincent Bennet’s guttural roars and screams. The sound is one more trudging than blistering, encompassing massive down tuned and drawn out riffs meant to sound as heavy as possible. In fact, it is easy to look to the band as the influence behind the emerging wave of down-tempo deathcore (Black Tongue, Traitors and Graves) currently. The Acacia Strain have made a career from that style, doing it better than any of this new wave have managed so far. Gravebloom is virtually more of the same, in some ways better and in no means worse, it's The Acacia Strain doing what they do best. Making really f*cking heavy music.
The first four songs hit you in the face like a hammer swung by Thor, with the band whipping up a relentless onslaught of heaviness, which is what they're known for. What should turn into a monotonous chug fest is saved by Vincent’s emotionally seeping and brutal screams, with dark and mysterious melodies layered over each other in an expertly manner. Each breakdown is placed in a precise moment in order to reach each songs desired dynamic potential and they aren’t thrown in for the sake of being brutal. The breakdowns are almost needed and necessary. Yes, I just said that. You need something slow and crushingly heavy in order for Vincent’s ferocious and offensive chants to seem appropriate and not out of place. Listen to songs such as album opener 'Worthless' and 'Bitter Pill' for examples, the latter arguably has the best breakdown of the album. The Acacia Strain really had a good idea of what they wanted this album to sound like. Every song flows into another, in a good way, and without trying hard at all you can easily pick out a memorable moment in each song.
Many may find the lyrics horrendous, cheesy, or maybe even offensive, while only some will understand what the band was going for. After listening to the record, it's safe to say that they are angry, really angry. Much like every other album. It would be nice to see an interesting concept or some sort of theme that isn't so straightforward and simple. I know the vocalist is creative enough and I know that he can come up with some interesting lyrics, this album does lack that at times which holds it back from being great instead of just very good. However, the lyrics can be so emotional and in your face at times, that they become therapeutic. If you are ever pissed off, this is the album to listen to. You can really hear the anger behind his voice and it makes the lyrics much more meaningful.
While the album helps The Acacia Strain stick their neck out of the moderately tired deathcore genre, it does little else. It’s not very innovative, and variety is rarely found. On the first few listens some songs will seem very boring. Besides that, it’s hard to find anything to complain about. Although I quite enjoy Vincent's growl, it gets dull by the end of the album and it's disappointing he has such little range. The guest vocal appearances are rather useless as well, playing fairly small roles. What I can't seem to understand is how the guest appearances sound so similar to Vincent's vocals. If I was left totally unaware of the fact that there were guest vocals, I wouldn't have even noticed it was a totally different person.
Without exaggerating, I can easily say this is one of the heaviest albums I’ve ever heard. That reason alone is worth checking this out, but there is so much more to it. The songs flow well, and song writing is terrific overall, it is very pissed-off and relatable, and features many well done breakdowns that will remind you why the overused technique ever became popular. This isn’t the run of the mill deathcore album, and several listens are acquired in order to give final judgement. I love pleasant surprises, and so should you. In other words, listen to this album.
8.5 out of 10 stars.
Gravebloom is out now via Rise Records. You can purchase it on iTunes and stream on Spotify.
Listen to the track 'Bitter Pill' below: