Review Summary: A work of dark elements, crushing walls of sound and haunting progressions. Certainly not "The Design II", and better that way.
Well what do we have here? Three years after the disgusting monstrosity of a debut album 'The Design' Into the Moat comes back with a new concoction of tracks. I think the big questions surrounding this album prior to its release, at least for me, were "will it be worth a three year wait?" and "is The Campaign going to be another orgy of time signature changes, sweeps and breakdowns?"
The answers for both are yes and no.
So the Campaign has dropped and I've let it sink in over repeated listens. And having been able to spin the Design for a few years now without getting bored (you don't see metal fans twiddling their thumbs through Calculating Infinity very often, nor this) it's safe to say that as one of my most highly anticipated albums of the year Into the Moat has not disappointed.
But they have changed. Somebody who hasn't gone through meticulous analysis of the rediculous brutality The Design had to offer probably wouldn't care to sort the differences between it and this new adventure. While The Design was an overload of the senses in every way imaginable and then in ways unimaginable, the Campaign has...well, not 'slowed down' or even lost any technicality, but has certainly arranged itself in a much more grounded way, actually sticking to tempos and riffs for more than three seconds before becoming unrecognizable. I'd even venture to say that there are progressive elements here that were unfounded on The Design. Here they actually allude to upcoming climaxes and set unique moods for each song, some having a 'doom metal' sort of feel on tracks like 'Advocate Vs Activist' (for short periods, mind you) whereas the Design, while having no dud tracks (outside the opener Century II which got old for me pretty quick), had no factor within each that distinguished them. Basically 'The Design' could have been one song.
This could have been one song too - but not because the aural assault on the listener makes it difficult to distinguish between song changes. Rather because this has a certain element of flow and cohesion to it; a sort of maturity and understanding of music which goes beyond the need to constantly throw in blast beats and chug chugs. This is by no means less heavy than the Design: I would define it instead as less sporadic overall.
I should tread carefully in saying that I suppose, since the drums are as absurdly awesome as ever. Matt Gossman is one relentless dude. While his focus on The Design was keeping up with the guitars and slaying on the double kick, here he's placed a lot more emphasis on the cymbals and various accents available. He really succeeds in 'filling in' the spots where the guitar are a bit more relaxed and kills it with the same ferocity when they're going full force. Which brings me to the vocals...
Coming from a fellow metal vocalist, I will admit Earl Ruwell has a pretty brutal scream in a genre flooded with run of the mill growlers. On the Design he hit the lows and highs like nobody's business. But here, I won't hesitate to say that his effort (or at least the production job) is the least stellar. Where the low screams on The Design had that little bit of distorted grittiness to them, here we can hear where the screams turn to yells pretty clearly, often sounding to me like a failed attempt at hitting a lower register. It's a matter of taste I suppose, but I prefer when the screams sound more full and without his clean voice coming through at the end. Also, there is not one high scream on this album. The monotonous vocal flavor is a nitpick for me most definitely. It doesn't deter the instrumentals though and at times of course he still shines throughout as his vocals are well placed and still hit home the majority of the time.
When it all fuses together, this album comes across as an ominous journey. Where this band once prided themselves on extremely abrupt changes in structure: The Campaign does the same, except this time you are traversing a dark corridor, trying to pinpoint the layers of sound but being pulled into a new chapter just as soon as you feel you've figured out where you are going. I suppose the best summary would be to say that where The Design - while technical to the Nth degree - was a two-dimensional version of The Campaign, which has filled in all the elements of darkness with nuances and subtleties making for a much more full, awarding listening experience.
All in all, I deem this construction worthy of repeated listens and dub it a worthy older brother - of different taste - to The Design. For listeners unfamiliar to this band's work looking to segue into this, choose this if you appreciate metal in the vein of Intronaut, The Handshake Murders, or Gorguts. If you prefer your headbanging material like Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza or Dillinger, choose The Design.