Review Summary: God loves the new Devil.
With the post-hardcore/melodic hardcore/progressively-tinged post-ironic beardcore scene growing exponentially over the last five years, its no surprise that Australia has had its fair share of success stories from the ever-expanding umbrella of modern hardcore. International exports include Brisbane-based youngbloods The Amity Affliction, and Melbournian House Vs. Hurricane, with bands such as Sienna Skies and Perspectives taking the lion’s share of the notoriety at a more local level. The great shame of the modern hardcore, however, is not the quality of music produced, but the tendency for casual listeners, and indeed hardcore proponents of the scene itself, to insist that all acts be tarred with the same brush. As a result, more unique and daring acts are often swept under the carpet in favour of younger, catchier, more marketable bands in a philosophy of intense anti-innovation. Sydney quintet Between the Devil and the Deep are a prime example of this phenomenon. The local veterans, releasing their debut album after a period of hibernation, lineup changes, and childbirthing, are (quite shamefully) consistently overshadowed by their peers, their frenetic blend of At The Drive-In-meets-Refused-filtered-through-Modern Life Is War hardcore going relatively unnoticed in spite of its merits.
‘Last Request’, Paper Spine’s ferocious time-bomb of an opener, lays all the band’s cards out on the table, setting the listener up for the ride before doomy live favourite ‘God Hates The New Facebook’ kicks in. Guitarists Tim and Mat take just as many lines out of At The Drive-In’s playbook as they do Lost Ground-era Defeater’s, alternating between beautiful delay-soaked melodies and crushing riffs with superhuman speed. Drummer Damien holds down the fort with a flurry of snare rolls and inventive drumbeats, while refreshingly-audible bassist Dave slices through the mix with a bass tone strong enough to cut concrete. However, vocalist Jay graces the record with what is arguably BTDATD’s most impressive performance. With assistance from bearded beastie Dave, Jay’s vocals run the gamut from tuneful hardcore shouting to half-spoken, half-crooned passages, all the way to ferocious, throat rending, gut wrenching screams, without ever touching the cliché screamed verse, sung chorus formula. In fact, it’s BTDATD’s curious philosophy of wearing their influences on their sleeves without ever sounding rehashed or redundant which makes the stunning melancholy of songs like the title track even sweeter.
The songwriting on Paper Spine is top-notch as well. With an understanding of climax and tension comparable to some of the most successful post-rock bands, Paper Spine is best listened to as a whole. This fact, however, never takes away from the individual songs-whether within the unrelenting chaos of ‘Britney’, the softer moments in tracks such as ‘Ballast’, or the inexorable intensity of The ‘Bridgeburners’ and ‘Souvenirs’-arguably the album’s centerpieces-BTDATD’s infamous live intensity shines through perfectly, creating some of the most memorable moments Australian hardcore has ever seen. Though present, breakdowns never devolve into one-note chug fests, instead utilized in a tasteful and skilled fashion which complements the other facets of their sound perfectly. Lyrically, the album traverses every dinner-table conversational taboo, going from war to politics to religion to sex with surprising tact, insight and maturity. Production and mastering, taken care of by Lachlan Mitchell (The Jezabels) and Alan Douches (Bear Vs Shark, These Arms Are Snakes) respectively, is also one of Paper Spine’s strong points, remaining clear and punchy without ever sacrificing one iota of ferocity or aggression.
Though they haven’t (yet) the level of acclaim or notoriety possessed by other bands within the post-hardcore arena down under, it cannot be denied that Between The Devil and the Deep are charging full steam ahead towards hardcore perfection. With the release of an album as strong as Paper Spine, a feat made all the more admirable via its status as their first full length, the definition of what it means to be a twenty-first century hardcore band in the land of Oz may yet have to be rewritten.