Review Summary: From the deepest depths within, Counterparts' third studio album shines well above their peers.
With 2011's The Current Will Carry Us
Counterparts proved that they were more than just a "Canadian Hundredth" (although vocalist, Brendan Murphy, enjoys making this comparison). The album was full of progression, raw emotion, and straight-forward, honest lyrics from Murphy. With The Difference Between Hell and Home
, Counterparts have found the right footing, compiling the influences associated with The Current
, and the sounds of their debut, Prophets
. The Difference Between Hell and Home
is a huge step forward for the Canadian hardcore five-piece, complete with the most focused songwriting heard from Counterparts to date, complete with all the melodic hardcore tendencies of past efforts, and the rekindling of the heaviness found on Prophets
. Brendan Murphy's lyrics, which have been a focal point of past records, leap into a more internally focused, relatable territory on this outing, with the scope heavily set on lost love, internal motivation and identity.
Opener, "Lost," describes where Murphy is at this exact point in time, mentally, with hints of nostalgia embedded in the lyrics. "I feel absolutely nothing/life is a lost cause," Murphy screams during the halfway point, with his heart on his sleeve. Guitarists, Alex Re and Jesse Doreen, playfully harmonize, and complement each other well. While the guitar riffs on The Difference...
have the same vibe as records past, the experimentation (and implementation) sets it apart from the other records. With "Lost," the pace is set for the rest of the record. Comparable to "The Disconnect," instrumentally, off of The Current
, the message of the record is clearly pointed to Murphy's internal frustrations and past demons. Second track, "Ghosts," is a well-constructed tale of a torturous, one-sided relationship. Musically, this song has hints of influence from Canadian comrades, Silverstein, and sounds more akin to their debut. "Please don't forget my face/I won't forget to remember you," Murphy pleads near the end of the song, with bone-chilling shrieks.
Counterparts picks up the pieces with "Debris," featuring some of the heaviest riffs of the album, before making their way to "Outlier," which speaks to one of the more prevalent themes of the album - isolation. "I am what I am/and I am an outcast," Murphy screams throughout the outro, amidst harmonizing guitars and stellar drumming by newcomer, Kelly Bilan. The theme continues in the first single, "Witness," where Counterparts show how they eloquently blur the line between hardcore punk and metal, and keep the lyrical subject matter at the forefront. "I lost track of all the times I made it home alive," Murphy yells amidst dissonant guitars, in the song's heavy, last leg. "Witness" is an excellent introduction to the album's sound, but The Difference Between Hell and Home
hasn't even gotten started.
"Decay" begins as an instrumental interlude, with post-rock flavor, and strings in the background, before molding into a La Dispute inspired, poetic piece by Murphy. The song builds more, the guitars become louder, and then Murphy's quiet speech turns to a full-volume scream, giving way to the album highlight/centerpiece - "Compass."
A bittersweet tale of uncertainty, and a loss of sanity, "Compass" is surely one of the best songs Counterparts has written, from a lyrical and instrumental standpoint. "I am a compass, constantly spinning. Constantly searching for the end," says Murphy, early on in the track. "Compass" exemplifies the more progressive sound of the album, starting off with a guitar/drum riff, and slowly working its way to a breakdown, akin to "Only Anchors," near the mid section. After an instrumental break near the end, and some feedback, Murphy's voice breaks through the speakers -
"I'm scratching at my skin/The lies blur together like the veins in my arms/I wish I wasn't so alone/You're the difference between Hell and Home," Murphy yells, in the most chilling lyrics of the album.
"Wither," released before the album, is one of the weaker tracks, especially after hearing the next track, "Cursed;" the song has the feel of "Goodbye, Megaton." from Prophets
, complete with the clean-guitar riffs and quick stop-start riffs, "Cursed" has possibly the best opening lyric of the album - "We aim to be transparent/We run from the open arms/The facade is something greater than ourselves." The killer combination of "Slave/Soil" closes out the album on an oddly heavy note, being the loudest, fastest piece the band has offered to date.
If you don't believe that this is the darkest Counterparts record yet, "Slave" and "Soil" should change your mind. The former is the more upbeat, and most hardcore-inspired, song on the album, and the latter is simply the heaviest. Murphy's screams are on point, and "Slaves" features the most blatant, yet unrelenting, breakdown at the halfway mark. The song only gets slower, and heavier, before collapsing into the finale, "Soil." "Soil" is full of feedback, noise, and the dark ambience that plagues the entire record. Murphy's parting words with the listener are "Find your mark and make it," before the song shifts into a groovy guitar-drum riff. The outro builds, instrumentally, as Murphy's vocals fade into the background.
Counterparts have crafted a dark, but beautiful album that is sure to be on many "Best Of" lists for 2013. "Witness" and "Wither" fall victim to being the only slight (and I mean slight) mis-steps on the album, and that may be in part because they were released early. With emotional, and clearly defined subject matter, a cohesive theme, and the best songwriting of any of their releases, The Difference Between Hell and Home
is the definitive Counterparts album.