Review Summary: In theory, The Acacia Strain's fourth album is a metalhead's wet dream: detuned guitars, brutal screaming, apocalyptic visions and enough breakdowns to fuel a circle pit for several weeks. Yet the whole is not quite the sum of its parts, and Continents co
The Acacia Strain, a four person metal/deathcore group from sleepy Chicopee, Mass., is one of those bands that has been around for a while (since 2002) but only made a name for themselves in the late 2000's. They got a huge boost from a host of headlining shows alongside metalcore heavyweights such as August Burns Red and Parkway Drive, as well as a spot on the now- defunct Sounds of the Underground tour in 2007.
The group's fourth album, Continent, was proclaimed by lead singer Vince Bennett in a press package from the band's label, Prosthetic Records, as "definitely darker than anything we've done in the past. It's more proper, if that's even possible."
Unfortunately, this is one of those albums I got at some random point, from some random friend, but never listened to. Given that Continent is considered the band's "breakthrough" effort, I figure it'll give me a good sense of who they are--and maybe why their latest albums deserve a listen.
I'll admit, the criteria I use to judge metal are pretty fickle. Most of the time I can't even articulate the exact reasons I enjoy one group over another. The Acacia Strain is one of those bands that for some vague reason rubs me the wrong way.
This is not to say the instrumentals on Continent aren't brash, brutal and belligerent. The guitars are permanently tuned a step and a half down, adding plenty of distorted rumble to Daniel Laskiewicz chords on "JFC."
In the same vein as Emmure (a band The Acacia Strain very vocally loathes), every song is comprised of back-to-back breakdowns with the occasional solo thrown in for good measure. Unlike some, I enjoy this formula: each guitar build or drum break gives you just enough time to catch your breath, and I'm sure at live shows the pit is formidable.
But the fact remains that The Acacia Strain is pretty standard metal. Drummer Kevin Boutot is spot-on with mechanical double-bass and china cymbal hits in "Seaward," and the rapid recklessness of "Dr. Doom" is punctuated by a measured and technical solo.
With the huge variety of acts out there (Prosthetic alone has a lineup of 29), it's getting harder and harder for mid-level bands to set themselves apart. It's understandable why the album begins with "Skynet," as it's the most balanced track. The middle section has some lingering, chorus-laden notes in the upper register set over rhythm guitar that were unexpected yet welcomed.
The more I think about it, my biggest issue with Continent (and The Acacia Strain in general) is the vocals. Blame it on my penchant for more melodic metal, but I enjoy a little singing with my throat thrashing.
It's a tough line to define, and a good chunk of my friends can't hear (and don't care about) the difference between baby-in-a-blender-esque yelling and deeper, more traditional screams. I believe there's a time and place for both, and with the right band, a scream can become a trademark.
But to be honest, Bennett's vocals are too deep and guttural, almost to the point that they're monotone. There's simply nothing special about them.
As with any vocals, screams are supposed to help keep place and add another level of musicality to a song. With Bennett's deep growls, everything mushes together so that the album becomes a 38-minute-long series of breakdowns, measured only by the 2-second interlude between tracks.
Aside from that, The Acacia Strain lacks the fancy fingerplay and musical layers of bands such as Misery Signals and A Life Once Lost. They are also exponentially less fun than many of their contemporaries. I've never been a fan of traditional metal, with themes of death, Satanic imagery and calls for total annihilation.
Bennett says the whole album was based on the concept of nihilism. Aside from a momentary lapse into goofiness on the otherwise disturbing "Balboa Towers" ("Leave the trash where the trash belongs/Baby, you'd look good in a dumpster") the lyrics are uniformly dark, centered on dreams of apocalypse and murder.
But this isn't enough to make the album completely damnable. As I mentioned, the instrumentals are tight and there were enough surprises to keep my attention. Maybe it's no accident that the band spiked in popularity after a set of high-profile tours. I feel as if they are the type of metal band that has to be experienced and heard.
If I happen to see them in concert, which I might, I just have one request: don't sacrifice a child or anything on stage. This isn't Norway.