The Acacia Strain – Gravebloom
Label: Rise Records
Release Date: June 30, 2017
One of the best and worst parts of metal is the ongoing argument about band categories and where to lump your favorite artists. You would be hard pressed to find a general fan base that nit-picks itself into more of a corner trying to label bands. Some categories are fairly simple, like thrash, death metal, or hardcore. Then you can get crazy with math metal, environmental metal, or “whatever random descriptor” and metal. Visit any webpage or thread discussing the merits of The Acacia Strain, and you will see evidence of this last group. Some call it doom, doom metal, deathcore, doomcore, and others. Regardless of the grouping, TAS and their latest release Gravebloom will fall upon the ears of eager listeners, and they will not be disappointed.
We are going to go with the deathcore label for this one, and it could not be more accurate. Following up the commercial success of Coma Witch, TAS continue to bludgeon relentlessly as they pound through eleven tracks on Gravebloom. Each lyric strand peels away at the face of death, finding a macabre mix of descriptions for the end of life. Combine that with two guitars and the bass tuning down to “Dropped F” (yes, “F”) and there’s little chance you will climb back out of the hole you will find yourself in. It is both mesmerizing and disturbing, cementing The Acacia Strain’s status as a “pioneers of deathcore”.
Lead by the only constant member of the band Vincent Bennett, the vocals and lyrics are surprisingly easy to understand and provide another percussive element to each song. Kevin Boutot (drums, percussion) is only other member of the band to remain from the 2000’s. Devin Shidaker (lead), Tom Smith Jr. (rhythm), and Griffin Landa (bass) round out the newest version of the band. Noting that the band has had 15 different members, The Acacia Strain might have found their ideal lineup.
Leading the charge is the opening track “Worthless”. If you have yet to experience TAS, and for that matter the heavier music you can find on the planet, this is a solid place to start. The percussive pounding of the rhythm section provides the backdrop for the lead guitar to lead you deeper into the nightmare of deathcore. What really draws me to this and the stylings of similar bands (see Meshuggah, Whitechapel, All Shall Perish) is the sonic layering they can achieve while still crushing your eardrums. “Bitter Pill” and “Big Sleep” continue the barrage, adding speed to the attack while adding in the rare guitar solo near the end of “Gravebloom”. “Calloused Mouth” might be the most musically varied song on the record, putting it in the running for my favorite with “Worthless”. “Dark Harvest” and “Walled City” both grind to the closer “Cold Gloom”. While there is a common theme and sound throughout the album, there’s enough deviation in each song to find something new in each track.
Considering the relative success of their previous album, The Acacia Strain had a great deal to live up to. Changing the formula after Coma Witch would appear to be a risky move at best, but the results have to be more than the band could imagine. The finished product is a crushing experience, and the more you listen to it the more you want. Gravebloom has the potential to be The Acacia Strain’s best album to date and certainly a victory for deathcore in general.