Review Summary: With Nevaeh, Design The Skyline come agonizingly close to presenting a genuinely good album, only to falter at the finish line.
Some acts never stand a chance. Much like how certain people can give the wrong impression the second you meet them, so too do bands (and, for that matter, books, movies, and TV shows, and any other form of media) oftentimes shoot themselves in the foot before they’ve even had the chance to try out the metaphorical gun. Whether it is because of their ridiculous image, derivative sound, or simply the fact that they do not have a clue, these artists invariably find themselves at a point where their best efforts cease to matter: in the eyes of the public, they will never be worthwhile, regardless of how many hoops they jump through.
In 2012, that band is Design The Skyline. With their (admittedly awful) online advance track, Surrounded By Silence
, this batch of Texan deathcore scenesters have warranted the hatred of Internet nerds (is there any other kind of nerd?) in levels far surpassing similarly “controversial” acts such as Blood On The Dance Floor or Bring Me The Horizon. And rightly so: Surrounded By Silence
was a seemingly random mishmash of disjointed musical snippets, pasted together to resemble a sorry excuse for a song. It embodied everything wrong about third-generation deathcore, and showcased no great future for the band outside of perennial YouTube laughing stock.
It was with no small amount of surprise, then, that ‘haters’ saw Design The Skyline get snapped up by Victory Records (a label with a less than stellar track record themselves) and release a debut album, Nevaeh
, in August of 2011, only a few months after their first demo track had risen to Internet infamy. Even more surprising was the fact that, while still showcasing clear limitations and a certain lack of direction, the album was actually, genuinely not that bad.
In fact, it is nearly affecting to see the band make this much of an effort and knowing it will go to nought. It is like seeing a small child lift weights: you know they will never make it, will probably only get laughed at even more, but by gum, they are trying
. This is the state of mind one is put into when listening to Nevaeh
: on the one hand, they really want to like this band, and wish good things for them; but on the other, Surrounded By Silence
is always there to remind them of just why Design The Skyline are not respected in the first place.
When push comes to shove, however, it is undeniable that this seven-piece’s debut album is a vast improvement from their laughably misguided first single. On Nevaeh
, the songs actually have structure, the sound is stylistically coherent and musicianship is, at times, above average. All in all, far more than could be expected from that bunch of emo posers that put out that awful YouTube song.
Perhaps as an apology to the millions of deriders of that video, the overall sound in Nevaeh
is somewhat removed from ‘standard’ deathcore, and at times closer to Scandinavian black or death metal (as the riff that opens Destroyer
clearly indicates). Tropes of the now-reviled style are still present (guttural grunts and breakdowns abound), but as a whole, Design The Skyline have clearly tried to steer their sound away from anything that might bring them even more criticism. Similarly, there is an attempt to streamline their songwriting, with most of the tracks having actual verse-chorus-bridge-interlude-outro structures, as opposed to the hodgepodge from before. And finally, there is actual ambition, with some of the material on here clearly attempting to go beyond the ‘usual’ standards for deathcore or melodeath. The whole thing is pleasantly endearing, and it very nearly
works, but unfortunately there are still some roadblocks preventing Design The Skyline from being considered an above-average band.
Early on in the album, it does seem like the band will not only achieve that objective, but surpass it with honours. Aware of the importance of first impressions, Dani Doom and company throw their best material at the listener early on, captivating them and making them believe this album is destined for, if not greatness, then at least redemption. Sure, what is presented here is far from perfect – the grunts, for one, are still absolutely dreadful, and the clean vocals seem a little too processed – but songs like opener Crystal Swords Kill The Hordes
, the instantly appealing Reality Away
or lead single Break Free From Your Life
do enough to win the listener over and keep them listening – even through more pedestrian cuts like Cybernetic Strawflower
. It all culminates on decidedly ambitious instrumental Reverie
, a - gasp! – genuinely good
track which not only shows that the band can play their instruments, but also that they can aim, and are
aiming, a bit higher than they have thus far.
Unfortunately, nothing is ever the same after Reverie
, and the instrumental stands as the turning point between the appealing part of the album and the facepalm-inducing part. Out of the last four tracks of Nevaeh
, two are inconsequential, throwaway instrumentals, and the remaining two are generic, uninteresting deathcore songs, which may give Design The Skyline detractors some more fodder for their dismissal of the band. Above all, however, this portion of the record is frustrating; frustrating because the songs seem to negate the potential the band demonstrated earlier, and frustrating because Design The Skyline were not intelligent enough to quit when they were ahead, or realise that they did not have enough material for a full album and should probably settle for an EP to begin with.
All in all, then, Nevaeh
can best be summed up with feelings of frustration, and possibly a little sympathy. With their debut album, Design The Skyline do manage to shed the rotten impression left by Surrounded By Silence
, and come agonizingly close to presenting something worthwhile; which only makes it all the more heart-wrenching when they fall on their faces right at the finish line. Changing musical trends, line-up woes and the continuing indifference of ‘serious’ music audiences may well spell doom for this band in the near future; but should that happen, at least they can take comfort in the fact that their legacy will not be restricted to Surrounded By Silence
Break Free From Your Life