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Review: Within The Ruins – Halfway Human

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Within The Ruins is a progressive deathcore band from Westfield, Massachusetts. It is safe to say that they have just released their best album yet. While instrumentally proficient as always, the band has headed in a new direction to include clean back-up singing and a very all-round melodic approach that may very well make Halfway Human the album to revolutionize the genre. Now you will need to forgive me in advance for using the term Nintendo FX so often as they are in fact used a lot, and there are several ways to get that sound happening, so I’m not going to get too nerdy, I’m just going to keep it simple.

“Shape Shifter” is an upbeat track opens the album in a style that listeners are now affectionately calling Nintendo-core or Tetris-Core. While strange, it is actually a fitting description. Beyond the groovy breakdowns and typical deathcore vocals, the fx used for the guitar fills and tremolo picking takes the older generation of listeners back to the soundtracks of Super Nintendo video games. Even the guitar solo sounds like it is strongly influence by Power Glove’s rendition of the megaman soundtrack. The use of clean backing vocals does not in any way harm the song or genre, only introduces how effective it will continue to be for the rest of the album.

Coming in second, “Death of the Rockstar” was released as a single last year. It did well not to give away too much spoilers of the band’s new style by giving deathcore and thrash listeners what they want – a few drills to keep heads banging and circle pits running – really nothing out of the ordinary. But then, the verse-chorus-verse-pre-chorus arrangement comes to an end very quickly and surprises us with a guitar solo just dripping with sweetness; an intertwining mass of beautiful and melodic array of notes that would surely have Veil of Maya fans taking notice. Soon after, the breakdown of chugs then blows any hint of predictability out of the water as it steps into a djent-like groove that an aerobics group could dance to. By this point listeners may find themselves enthralled and curious as to what pleasant surprises the next song is going to provide.

Like every core band, the album must have a couple breakdown songs. In this case, “Beautiful Agony” is a song with verses consisting of ever-changing djent-like breakdowns that would have listeners in mosh pits baffled as to the time signature they should bang their heads in – always an amusing sight to behold at Meshuggah concerts. The thrash pre-choruses are an excellent transition, followed by an unexpected chorus with clean backing-vocals that feel like lullabies. This song could make an excellent gateway for Linkin Park fans as well as an eye-opener for Chelsea Grin imitations.

Unfortunately, “Incomplete Harmony” lacks the originality and unpredictability of previous songs by drifting off into the repetitiveness of nu-metal riffs that may appeal to KoRn fans. The solo however, does have an interesting reggae rhythm under it – interesting enough to be heard and acknowledged with the proper respect, but not enough to listen through the whole song again. The nu-metal riffs were not bad, just something that has already been done in my opinion. That being the case, if nu-metal is a sound a listener wants back, they are sure to enjoy this track.

“Bittersweet” comes out swinging with riffs reaching a climax point that could almost pass for death metal. It does stumbles a little as it trades away momentum around the twenty-seven second mark to go for an uninspired chug walk. Luckily however, its smooth sailing from that point on as the song regains momentum and transitions into a harmonized breakdown a listener will wish was just a little longer. But not to worry though, the next time the harmonized breakdown appears, it will be there to stay and progress into a heavenly outro complete with a light choir and Latin guitars. I’d describe this song as a rollercoaster ride to heaven. Then again, this kind of experimenting has been known to cause an upset among certain listeners, but I imagine many others would welcome this track’s structure.

Now, clean singing has shook and shocked the deathcore scene beyond belief when it was first introduced earlier this year – we’ll remain civil by not mentioning names, but “Objective Reality” is a song that boldly opens with and continues to soar proudly with clean-singing dominating the choruses, allowing deathcore listeners to welcome it with open arms and then gain the understanding that it’s all about time and place. All-round, this song has no flaws; the verses are powerful chariots with Nintendo-riffs in its trails, and the breakdowns are like mountains as they have Nintendo-licks complimenting and accentuating. Be sure to add this song to your playlist when you’re going for a drive, you will not be disappointed.

“Absolution” is a very upbeat breakdown song with groove-thrash verses and an interesting use of fx in the chorus. It’s a very catchy song with guitar fills that may give one the mental image of someone shuffling up and down a flight of stairs. The solo begins with unimpressive wah-wankery, but quickly recovers with alternate-picking. Although the duration of the song goes for a good four minutes, it somehow feels like it buzzes past so quickly every time. Usually, a good song tends to feel shorter than it really is. In this case, I really can’t complain.

“Ivory Tower” is by far my favorite song on this whole album. The fact is, every riff and syllable on this song is perfectly placed. It’s got a distinct hardcore-groove element that would please many Pantera and Unearth fans without fail. I should note that I’m usually not a fan of solos that depend on wah-pedals but this one had won me over. Having observed reactions, this song is indeed a heavy favorite. It could be that the vocals shine brighter on this track as the other songs have guitar riffs and clean backup-singing dominating them. Often, instrumentally-driven bands like Dream Theater tend to shadow the vocalist, so perhaps this is the track to keep on the radio.

“Sky-Splitter” has a wonderful clean sung chorus sandwiched between verse riffs that sound like a man swinging a chainsaw in a tight hallway. This is definitely one for Corey-crazed Slipknot fans to sink their teeth into. The breakdowns are strangely simple yet effective and well-gelled towards the bridge and fading on the song. Speaking of fading, on this album it’s just not a normal song without the Nintendo-ism in there somewhere, and that’s exactly what they use to fade. EXCEPT, they figured out a way to use Nintendo fx to accentuate the sadness of the song’s melody, nothing short of awesome.

Instrumentals have always been a debated topic amongst metal heads. For some, it led to adopting a monster from a Lovecraft novel as a heavy metal icon. To others, they were just tolerated nuisances. Whatever the case, this was the first proper instrumental I have ever heard from a core band. By proper, I am more or less discriminating against core bands that think an instrumental track is just a long series breakdowns with weak melodies, and no vocals. No, no, “Ataxia IV” is a proper instrumental track with proper instrumental merits; guitar solos, time-changes, structural transitions and progressions etc. This is definitely one worth showing to Liquid Tension Experiment fans, and definitely one to end all ‘core is not metal’ arguments. The instrumental is just one reflection surface to show how much the core genres have matured and earned our respect.

“Treadstone” is a shredderific masterpiece that has stayed true to being instrumentally flawless. However, the vocals did disappoint me by bringing false hope of a pig squeal – Roughly after one minute into the song there are some proper Chelsea Grin sounding breakdowns, and it sounded almost like the vocalist was going to throw in a BREE! Instead, it was just a split-second grunt that sounded like it was about to head in that direction, but didn’t. It just had me wondering, why doesn’t this album have pig squeals? It has nearly everything else. These guys are very intelligent song writers; it would have been guaranteed that they would put it to good use. Oh well, the song is great end to the album that will keep listeners repeating the album many times.

To be honest, I just can’t seem to grasp how so few listeners and press talk about this band or this album. Recognition will surely pick up – after all, it’s very rare to find a band that sounds better as they release more albums. Whether your stimulant is djent, metalcore, deathcore, or progressive metal, this is a must-have album. If you’re wondering whether any decent 2017 albums have been released, look no further, this one could easily be one of the top.

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