Review Summary: Shapeshifting metalcore that grabs you by the throat but wears thin from predictability
Metalcore is a dying genre (or perhaps dead already). Its quite difficult to find heavy music able to reinvent itself these days without the band having to go towards a more watered down mainstream style or input clean melodic vocals. When I first listened to For the Fallen Dream's 2008 debut "Changes", it wasn't anything special to the ear but was certainly solid as hell and an enjoyable effort by the Michigan quintuplet. They reminded listeners of Misery Signals during their "Of Malice and the Magnum Heart" era but with a much heavier sound and less melodic excessiveness. The guitars were technical and the drumming was generic but appropriate. What bothered me most was the cookie cutter vocals of Chad Ruhlig; it lacked variety and emotion; it was something we've all heard countless times from similar bands in this overflooded genre. After his departure, newcomer Dylan Richter was brought aboard in 2009 and the band became somewhat revitalized with a looming underground fan base. After listeners were able to preview a pre-production demo track "Smoke Signals" on the band's Myspace with the new vocalist, many complained about the inability of the band to reinvent itself following their debut album as guitar riffs were being recycled and the new vocalist sounding too similar to the former. "Change" was certainly a problem for the next album.
Imagine in a overcrowded heavy music genre where a band is able to appeal to fans of different subgenres of music without sounding contrived. Imagine if you saw an Emmure deathcore tough guy at a concert moshing with a Trivium metalhead. Imagine talented musicians focused on songwriting instead of showcasing their skills in 40 minute wankfests. And finally, imagine if second generation metalcore finally spit out an album that wasn't embarassing for you to tell others that you actually enjoyed it without sounding like a clueless 16 year old. This is exactly where "Relentless" comes to form.
Straying from the generic melodic-core sound that pigeonholed the band in their previous album, For the Fallen Dream's sophmore effort "Relentless" is a crushing, atmospheric, dense, and intelligent album that has taken the trademark aspects of the metalcore genre throughout the years and reduced it into its own sonic assault. After the initial listen, the band has matured tremendously. Most noticeably, there is a somewhat renewed focus on the vocals of the band. Unlike "Changes", the generic "core" vocals have evolved with Richter alternating between a harsh, scathing low end roar and the standard metalcore growl. It's somewhat predictable but is quite different compared to other albums in this similar genre because of how raw and unsettling the overall effect of the vocals are on this record. To much dismay of many fans, the band's secondary vocalist and bassist Joe Ellis has introduced melodic clean vocals in vein of Haste the Day or It Dies Today on exclusive tracks. This brings in variation but is certainly not overdone as it is carefully placed to weave in and out of a handful of songs.
Most noticeably, guitarists Jim Hocking and Chris Cain have regained the band's trademark two-headed juxtaposing guitar attack but in comparison to "Changes", the two have toned down the melodic guitar riffs in favor of grinding minor chords. The result is less technical, but the effect is dense, harmonic, and textured. Think Acacia Strain meets Misery Signals in a street fight and the bloodied and battered survivors are the ending result. Breakdowns have become more tasteful and still relevant but are no longer the focal point of songs. Furthermore, the drumwork has improved immensely. Andrew Tkaczyk pounds away on the skins, alternating and shifting time signatures while even introducing polyrhythmic chaos in certain parts. Simply listening to his complex footwork on the triggered double bass is a joy in itself. While Tkaczyk's drumming has certainly become a highlight of the album keeping the listener interested but is at times a bit overwhelming while it attempts to match the intensity of the vocals. Lastly, like 99.9% of all metalcore albums, the bass playing of Joe Ellis is inaudible and forgettable. For the Fallen Dreams have become much more aggressive in their musical approach, sacrificing melody for a more discerning and dissonant personality.
Aside from the level of maturity displayed from such a young band in just its second album, "Relentless" is not the groundbreaking album many would have expected from a band with such potential in the underground heavy music scene. Many of the songs are a bit difficult to differentiate between each other and some riffs sound a bit repetitive. No new elements are introduced within the standard metalcore boundaries. Moreover, this is a trendy album, not a memorable effort people will be listen to after that second week. Its is a large step from the debut album in terms of developing their sound and their ability incorporate many of the more interesting elements of the genre yet is still overly predictable. For the Fallen Dreams are perhaps an album away from releasing a truly boundary setting album, but for now, this is a very unique and enjoyable release for those who are tired of listening to mediocre "core" bands chugging away on palm muted open strings and screaming over the same breakdown patterns that threw modern underground heavy music into its own grave.
- The Call Out Perceptions