Review Summary: It certainly won’t change your mind about metalcore, but it is a fine listen and a certain step into more interesting territory.
Mediocrity and repetitive song structure have given metalcore a bad name, save for some giants of the genre (Converge, Botch, etc.). It has been a cesspool of bands recycling similar ideas, but for those that have an affinity for the genre, this particular release is a reason for fans to at the very least sit up and pay attention. This or the Apocalypse have created an album that takes the tired formula and adds to it, to varying degrees of success. There are incredible stand-out songs, and unfortunately some that fall flat. Although a bit uneven at times, "Dead Years" provides a thoroughly entertaining listen. The ability to infuse such a tired genre with passionate vocals and intelligent lyrics show an incredibly promising band redefining the boundaries. The guitar leads provide plenty of listenable moments, but the real strength of TOTA here is their ability to slow things down and put emphasis the personal aspect of the album. Vocalist Ricky Armellino is an incredibly rejuvenating presence on here, as he rants, raves, and screams bloody murder on "Dead Years". He shows decent enough range, but it is the way that he talks through some verses of songs, eventually allowing the rage to change from spoken-word to an all-out scream. It sounds like the ramblings of a madman, and it gives the album a feeling of raw power that propels it forward and sets it apart from similar bands. The lyrics are worthy of mention, as they reach around the general topics that are gravitated towards and creates a more confessional atmosphere. You can hear the despair in Armellino's voice as he cries foul against the majority's apathy.
"Hell Praiser" starts the album with a fiendish, blistering guitar lead. It pierces the song and creates a unique atmosphere to an otherwise standard metalcore song. In reference to the guitars for this particular song, it cannot be overstated that it really creates an urgent, siren-like tone; that coupled with the vocals give the song a feeling of sheer intensity. "Power Hawk" is saved only by the impassioned vocals and bitter lyrics, as shown here:
"The best thing about cowards is that no matter what their strength is
When everything goes wrong, they all turn upon themselves
So I will be a beacon shining light on the confusion
I hope you brought your voice"
Now, I can certainly attest that there are better lyrics out there, but for a band such as this to produce lyrics that are not derivative of everything else that is out there shows great promise. They are delivered with conviction, and this song is a perfect example of the passionate, messy ranting that is Armellino's vocals. While there are positive aspects to the first three songs, the album really gets going with "Americans". Beautiful clean guitars grace the beginning, and the slow-burning intro adds dramatic effect to what is the best song on the album. The way that Armellino emotes, coupled with the interesting clean guitar leads allow for a more personal listening experience.
With all the positives that come with this album, there is still something that should be clearly stated here: There is indeed a fair amount of chugging. It shows up quite a bit and for the most part detracts and makes it seem like a more contrived album. The good news is that it only bogs down a few songs into mediocrity. “You Own No One But You” starts out incredibly heavy and seems like standard metalcore fare, but after a predictable breakdown halfway through the song, it opens up in dramatic fashion. Clean vocals come out of nowhere and send the song soaring into the stratosphere, and then disappear as soon as they come up for air. It is just the thing that was needed to break up the mediocrity of song, and This or the Apocalypse saves several songs this way. The strongest clean chorus comes in on “Gaunt and Fierce”, giving it an anthemic feel and allowing a huge and gritty guitar riff to pervade the song throughout.
This or the Apocalypse gives their best effort to date on “Dead Years”, and though it doesn’t redefine heavy music in any sense, it was obvious that it wasn’t meant to be genre-less. It is enjoyable for the most part, excluding a few songs that bring down the overall feel of the album (“In Wolves”, “Hate the One You Love”), and manages to do something that most releases of this ilk cannot do; mix technicality with passion. It certainly won’t change your mind about metalcore, but it is a fine listen and a certain step into more interesting territory.