Review Summary: Don't let the surprising variety and experimentation go unappreciated simply because they're not as good as Meshuggah at being Meshuggah.
Well... my name definitely isn't Coreston McScenebree, but I can't help liking The Acacia Strain. They're crude. They're in-your-face. They're violent, misanthropic, and hateful. Yet, they don't feel like a complete bunch of thugs, and don't make you feel bad about yourself for embracing their jaded image, like the mindless chavs of Emmure would. While Continent and Wormwood were fun in their own right with their constant, downtempo chugging, even someone with an unexplainable soft spot for the band like myself cannot pretend the albums didn't drag on. And if someone's not fond of this kind of music, even one sitting through any of these albums could prove tedious.
But that's where Death Is The Only Mortal is surprising. There are several - and I mean quite a few things that strike as new. I'll enumerate them for convenience's sake.
- Vincent starts to use high shrieks in addition to his growls. So much for the complaint that his vocals are boring and monotonous. While on Continent his growls were kinda weird, they improved on Wormwood and even more so this time. He sounds like a proper death metal growler, with a deep, strong growl and not the airy, pathetic imitation that many deathcore growlers serve. His high-pitched shrieks are also very satisfying in their sound, bringing to mind the vocalists of bands such as The Black Dahlia Murder, Kataklysm or Deicide. Like the band or not, you've got to admit that they've got one capable voice box jockey.
- More mature song titles. Seriously, looks like they're through with those silly, neither-humorous-nor-completely-serious, I-don't-give-a-***-about-artistry deathcore titles. This time the titles don't make you frown. Well, they might, but that would be because of them sounding too out of place for being so intellectual, and not for being bro garbage. "Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow" sounds like an Insomnium title, while "Dust and the Helix" seems to be a clever (?) reference to DNA. Might not float your boat, but for me it's definitely better that than "JFC" or "BTM FDR".
- Same goes for the lyrics. While still rather simplistic and straightforward, they've considerably cut down on the F-word and streamlined the song themes - a natural progression from Wormwood, which already seemed to stray more towards misanthropia and disillusionment than the "I-kill-because-I-can" of Continent. Not that it's gone, quite the opposite, actually. But on this here release, the lyrics also follow a theme: death. Unlike the previous releases, this time it is looked upon more - as weird as it sounds with TAS - philosophically. There's the issue of the acceptance of mortality as a release from the horror of life, accentuated heavily with how pathetic and worthless life itself is. Wormwood all over again, but pushed to its extremes. However, the lyrics to the song "Time And Death And God" can convincingly pass for intelligent. Check out and see, quite nice for these guys.
- They've started ripping off Meshuggah. Seriously, from the djenty and slightly polyrhythmic chug patterns and guitar tone, all the way to atmospheric instrumental breaks. And this change is quite dramatic actually - so dramatic in fact that it starts to seriously undermine and overtake their previous style. It is definitely no Meshuggah, but the rudimentary elements of their Swedish inspiration serve more to enhance their sound than to take away from it. Other musical adventures have also been attempted, such as a melodic song in the form of Brain Death - this one's sadly a rather sound failure, since the melody seems almost completely copied from one song from Continent, while the solo is so simple a 10 year old could play it. Still it's not an Emmure level failure by any means.
That many changes, yet none of them makes this band half as good as any of the bands they've borrowed each of these new elements from, you might say. And you would be right to an extent. But this is no way to judge a band. Sure, most so-called "melodic metalcore" bands have slaughtered say, At The Gates' legacy, but TAS has finally shown their willingness to imbue some artistic qualities into their songs, what little of those one may wish to notice. The ambient breaks seem such a trivial thing to do, but on Continent and Wormwood even those were too much for the band's creative department to consider. So I guess we should give them the props for trying. And several songs really are a blast to listen to, especially the varied Victims of the Cave, which instrumentally reminds greatly of Seaward, and is probably their best song since the latter. Also the song mentioned in the context of its lyrics, "Time And Death And God", seems to be quite adequate at building that Vildhjarta-like ambience. While the usage of melody comes awkwardly to The Acacia Strain, they certainly find much more comfort in this ambiguous affair with math metal.
Jumping on the djent bandwagon or just honestly seeking for a way to improve? Whatever may be the case, TAS have made a good album. While it's definitely no contemporary masterpiece, it goes to show how much above their rivals Emmure this band really is, and that it does have some potential which could be tapped into if the band didn't care so much about appealing to tough guys.