Review Summary: Neverbloom is a typical deathcore album, made entirely ATYPICAL by the brilliant and nuanced use of symphonic elements.
I realize deathcore has a generally horrible reputation, so I’ll start by saying this – bands that use generous servings of chugs generally bore the ever-loving crap out of me, almost as a rule. I really don’t like them at all…I don’t see the point, and they usually wind up being a creative cop-out rather than an effective artistic device. I can see some of the appeal of breakdown-heavy tunes – at live shows they get the crowd going, there’s an enormous amount of energy and pent-up anger release associated with them, and they’re really easy to bang your head to…but bands who’ve mastered the breakdown/chug such as Whitechapel, Carnifex, Chelsea Grin, Oceano, and even Vildhjarta/Meshuggah to a certain extent just don’t do it for me.
Enter the Australian symphonic/progressive deathcore sextet Make Them Suffer. Their latest release, the impeccably-produced musical sojourn they’ve titled Neverbloom, shows the band maturing on a number of levels from their 2010 EP Lord of Woe – more technical, diverse, and balanced in every conceivable way. Neverbloom explores one man’s heartwrenching sorrow and grieving process by taking us along on dream walk through a darkened forest. Is this a literal dream-walk, or is he simply in a reality so terrible it feels like it could only be a dream? I leave that for you to decide.
My personal perception of "Neverbloom" is intimately linked to my interpretation of its message, so I'd like to first explore that. In the orchestral opening “Prologue”, the listener is introduced to the dream-state which permeates the rest of the album. I imagine the start of the track as an “awakening” – scintillating, barely-there brushes on the keys wherein our dreamer opens his eyes and finds himself dropped in the middle of a gloomy forest. The strings are plucked as his anxiety ratches up…he’s beginning to realize just where he is, and he pushes himself to his feet. His heartbeat quickens as, in terror, he grasps that he is alone in this world. When the violin section starts around 50 seconds in, he remembers what brought him to these woods in the first place – his sorrow and anguish builds and builds towards a crescendo as we reach the end of the track, and….BOOM. The howl at the outset of the title track signals an explosive emotional release and the start of his grieving process. We’re introduced to his mourning when we’re told that this forest (and now its singular inhabitant) has only ever known sorrow, as the final drop of joy left in this world falls from a tree as a single tear which disintegrates as it touches the ground. With this last gasp at joy, all that’s left to keep him company is the moaning of the trees, and our dreamer starts the first stage of grief – denial. He’s lingered in his garden of woe for so long in hope that the tear would ignite the growth of another flower of happiness…but that bloom never comes as a result of the curse of an entity named Morrow. If you look at the album through this lens, the other tracks on "Neverbloom" are taking you through the other stages of grief as a progression between denial, depression, anger, and acceptance. By the end of the record, he has come full circle and realizes that his sole purpose is now to take the suffering inflicted on him by Morrow and visit it upon the world a thousand-fold.
Make Them Suffer is clearly adept at writing beautiful, poetic lyrics (sit down and give the album another couple listens while following the lyrics booklet if you don’t believe me). What you might be thinking, though, is that woe is an theme better left explored through black metal or funeral/doom metal, or maybe you even think it’s an "emo thing". This, however, is where Make Them Suffer separates themselves from essentially every other deathcore band…they realize that atmospheric/orchestral touches can be used not only to transport and relax the listener, provide a contrasting “calm before the storm” or eye-of-the-storm effect, or even to alter the feel of the music by making it sound more massive/theatrical, but also to completely change the entire meaning – passages which before were simply pissed at the world become a touching lashing-out, parts that may have been seen as whiny post-hardcore bitching are transformed to a baleful sorrow.
Were it not for the ever-present haunting keys, violin notes, or synth samples, Make Them Suffer would probably be just another outrageously talented Australian band squandering the gifts they’ve very obviously been given…but the various elements and influences combine to ensure that this doesn’t happen. The background orchestration adds an atmosphere of constant turmoil which, while not always entirely audible, is always there tugging relentlessly on the listener’s heartstrings. The impossibly heavy chugs, djent tempo-shifts, breakdowns, and blast beats employed by Make Them Suffer would be bland, generic, overdone, and monotonous in any other band, but when coupled with the ever-shifting emotion conveyed by their symphony and pummeling vocals, become an entirely unique vehicle for traversing a landscape of anguish. Each chug and double-kick punctuates what I can only imagine as a wracking breath which has come harder than the last. Each breakdown is the dreamer falling to his knees, pounding the ground and screaming in unrelenting agony. Each growl and wail is a siren’s song for the soul of his lost loved one and for his own tortured sanity. The brutal, droning, sludgy style forges an extraordinarily effective instrument for forcefully dragging the audience through these mires of oppressive sorrow and simultaneously illustrates an unbridled rage at the entity Morrow for causing such pain. The interludes provide both a respite from the raw passion in the previous tracks and a transition into the next stage of grief.
In summation, Make Them Suffer might sound generic and chuggy at first, but when taking the music and its message as a whole and really giving yourself the opportunity to understand everything this album has to offer, you might be surprised -- I sure was! I’d give this album a very-nearly--perfect rating of 4.5 out of 5. Why did it miss out on the final 0.5? Only because I’m a little disappointed that they didn’t have their brilliant symphony a little higher in the mix since I enjoyed those parts as much if not more than anything else. Make Them Suffer has a gigantic future ahead of them.