Review Summary: The band that plays every other band’s music finally finds its own lane.
There’s a bit of irony in Counterparts’ rise to relevance. That metalcore is oft-derided for being a “degenerate” form of the genres it meshes is a product mostly of the fact that its music can be simple, evocative, and far more glamorous than those genres, and then of course its (consequent) appeal to the hordes of pasty, hair-tossing, ‘esoteric’ rebels whose passion for music was affirmed when the universe blessed them with a table in fourth period algebra with the other three most incredible musicians in the world. If the crushing yet chromatic palates of metal and the scathing, unbridled fury of hardcore are its surrounding wavelengths, metalcore fits in the most comfortable of alcoves as the surprisingly accessible bastard son of two fairly dense genres. What’s ironic is that from Prophets
to The Current Will Carry Us
, Counterparts went backwards, walking out of the house that Misery Signals built straight into a thick, bland swamp of (degenerate) melodic-ish hardcore. While Prophets
was the musings of the uninhibited mind, a gaudy funhouse filled with unrestrained percussion, a cocky ‘breakdown-everything’ tendency, and anthemic, life-affirming gang chants, Current
was an awkward departure from the metalcore upon which Counterparts had a stern vicegrip and had the unfortunate result of sometimes traipsing blankly across a barren medium that looked to be endless as far as the eyes could see. There wasn’t a lack of focus or direction, but it did at times feel like the very direction the band had chosen was a step back from the entrancing licks and kicks of Prophets
. And since Counterparts have never been particularly original, for them to reiterate The Current Will Carry Us
on the new album would simply be fuel to the why-listen-to-Counterparts-when-I-can-listen-to-every-other-melocore-band-ever fire. Fortunately, on The Difference Between Hell and Home
, Counterparts has a somewhat return to form, complecting the ideas that made Prophets
and songs like “Reflection” such successes – progressing finely, finally, towards a style that is all their own.
To preface a bit, nothing about this record is original. Counterparts worship convention almost as much as they admire their predecessors. They’ve paved their path up to this point with an impressive understanding and appreciation of the risks and successes early magnates of hardcore enjoyed, but The Difference Between Hell and Home
seems to be the ultimate realization of their influences and talents, distilled through the raw, desperate screams of vocalist Brendan Murphy and the breakneck tempos and carnal tunes set by the rest of the group. The album opens with a frenzied aggression, supported by a re-emphasis on the drums that occasionally had to take a backseat on Current
(despite being one of the most dynamic and inviting aspects of Prophets
). “Lost” marks the return of the band’s charisma, showcasing the band at their most thunderous and in sync, accented with electric metalcore melodies and a revitalized energy, all of which permeate the rest of the album to come. A few songs in, it becomes obvious that Counterparts is trying to find a happy medium between its previous albums, much like the way the metalcore genre navigated its own channel. Without compromising the aggression from Prophets
or the raw intensity that peppered Current
(which, for all my criticism, was one of the album’s most engaging qualities), Counterparts finally make music that can’t be instantly pigeonholed. The production crews have stepped up their game for Difference
, and the band sounds much more mature on every level, from the strong transitions between songs – especially from “Outlier”, the Popeye inspired ode to Atlanta’s finest hip-hop outfit, to “Witness” the deliberate yet manic mammoth of a track – to the cohesiveness and chemistry between the members, whose aural onslaught is always on point. “Decay” is the only respite from the mayhem, an airy ambience that slowly builds atop wispy guitars until it is swallowed by the current of broken screams and rabid drumming, carrying us to “Compass”, the mountain atop which Murphy stands, howling existential reveries down the dense air at forgotten climbers who remain entranced by the hypnotic drumming and crashing guitars as avalanches of sound course down towards them. It’s one of Counterparts’ finest moments, the perfect illustration of the group’s evolution, seamlessly molding the best qualities of their hardcore sound and the wings of freedom they flew on as a purely metalcore outfit (yeah, it has a breakdown too) into a sound they can claim as their own. It’s not decidedly unique, but it’s thoroughly exciting, and being the talented bunch that Counterparts is, adding this element can only spell good things in the future. The Difference Between Hell and Home
is ultimately the remarkable coming of age of a band whose refusal to experiment previously held them back from being a stellar band, but the maturity and staggering writing of Difference
has helped them finally realize that dream, hopefully for years to come.