Review Summary: While Returners teeters on the edge of formulaic metalcore, it packs a punch.
Metalcore has been subject to much scorn, the majority of which is fully warranted. Bands are excoriated for their lack of originality and inspiration - and talent. With each new release, elitists cringe while “scenesters” cheer; seasoned metal listeners sigh while newcomers rejoice. I don’t exactly regard myself as a sophisticated listener of music. Hell, I’ll openly admit that Metalcore is one of my favourite genres. With that being said, I’m still capable of identifying a bad album when I hear one. TGI’s Returners definitely isn’t one.
Information on Returners:
Jonathan Vigil - Vocals, Programming, Guitars
Aaron Brooks – Guitars
Zach Johnson – Guitars
Jim Riley – Bass
KC Stockbridge - Drums, Percussion
Album length: 36:42
Release date: June 8th, 2010
Let’s get to the album itself. The first track is an instrumental - no surprises there. It’s an interesting piece, which starts off with a rather uplifting passage. This passage culminates, and after that the track just sort of wanes away wistfully. For me, this is an accurate reflection of the album in its entirety: contrast, change, movement. Nothing is needlessly dragged out on TGI’s Returners; it’s compact yet substantive. It almost feels as though the momentum of any given song is constantly shifting. Between The Lines is perhaps the best example of the aforementioned. It kicks off with a melodic riff (which sounds almost like a rudimentary version of the riff in Faith Or Forgiveness from Fury And The Fallen Ones) and settles into a punishing groove; gradually the tempo diminishes, and a breakdown abruptly pounds you in the face, featuring delectable gang vocals: “Defy the leader. Step away from the line. No one will ever get the best of me.” KC is also more prominent in this song, with some machine-like double bass'age and blistering rolls.
Which brings me to the lyrics. The main themes of the lyrics are possibly independence and courage. Jonathan takes us on a rollercoaster ride of adversity, pain, hatred; but at the other side of the spectrum it’s about standing up, fighting, persevering, defying. It’s a strangely simplistic approach: the bad followed by the good. It fits this brand of music like a hand fits a glove. Jonathan conveys powerful messages likely to instil a sense of courage and self-belief among listeners. He also touches on things such as respecting different religious beliefs, and wishing time away. The latter tracks tie in with the album title, which handles about returning from a tour and dealing with change.
The breakdowns are indubitably the heaviest parts on the album, bolstered by vocals which are delivered with irrefutable conviction. Some of the breakdowns are highly satisfying, others are filler. What Jonathan lacks in variation, he certainly makes up for with raw brutality and fervour. His screaming is easily likeable. He never deviates far from his custom scream, although during the more melodic and reflective passages you’ll notice an intentional downshift of vehemence, encouraging an atmosphere of pensiveness. Yes, there is a conspicuous lack of variation, but he manages to confide the most intimate emotions with subtle changes.
Aaron and Zach’s guitar work is solid and conducive to emotion. It can be as melodic as it is punishing. For the former, just give Chrono’s emotion-inducing clean guitar lead a listen; the latter can be found on the very next track, when the pace picks up with The Returner. On Overlooked, you get the best of both worlds: aggression and melody. The song kicks off ferociously with grungy guitar work, but the ensuing passage is pleasingly melodic, with Jonathan clamouring: “Beaten and broken, I will prevail.” Unfortunately, this song suffers a bit with chug-chug syndrome, and it’s not the only one, sadly.
There’s no doubt that Returners is a chaotic album fraught with wild shifts and changes, yet it’s all weaved together in a surprisingly coherent fashion. It’s an album that can appeal to a wide range of listeners: uncomplicated Metalcore fans will love it for its inexorable brutality; more demanding listeners may love it for its raw emotion and lack of pretentiousness. While Returners isn’t a classic by any means, it surely hits more than it misses.