Review Summary: One foot in ambition, one foot in regression.
The act of attempting to switch from deathcore to a more traditional extreme metal sound can be likened to a small-ass peon of a knight trying to fell a 10-foot-tall dragon; it's a ballsy and noble move, but most likely ends up unsuccessful and even embarrassing. Take Job For a Cowboy for example; once a promising act in this infamous genre, they switched to death metal music and abandoned most of their -core elements. Unfortunately, with bland riffs and vanilla songwriting, the band only proved to skeptics that they were not yet ready for the big leagues. Carnifex, however, have been a different story.
Beginning as - like what many people considered them - a bland Suicide Silence copycat with heavier riffs and a more extreme overall vibe to them, Carnifex had shown progression throughout each album instead of completely sticking to a boring "chugga chugga" deathcore sound that many bands in the genre's mainstream love to exploit like hell. Until I Feel Nothing, the band's best work thus far, saw them experimenting with black metal and traditional death metal song structures while sprinkling in their old deathcore sound, resulting in a fantastic leap forward for the band. But it's two years later and Carnifex have claimed to be changing up their sound even more for Die Without Hope, and while this is true, I don't think its execution totally matched the intent.
With that said, however, let me make it clear that this is by no means a bad album. Plenty of the strongest elements of Carnifex's previous effort have been carried over to this one, including the black metal elements and more melodic touches here and there. Songs like "Dark Days" and the interlude "Reflection of the Forgotten" effectively showcase the band's increased use of atmosphere, now including piano work into the mix and giving off a melancholic vibe that sounds more genuine than before. Even in the songs that are more breakdown-based, it's usually worth the wait to hear moments of melody and guitar harmonization brought about. Influences from Carcass, The Black Dahlia Murder, and Dissection are more present here than in any of their previous albums, between the dark nihilistic lyrics and the higher degree of tremolo picking and guitar harmonies. Basically, the experimentation here is welcome and an absolute godsend to any Carnifex fan who has been clamoring for the band to think a bit outside the deathcore box. Also worth noting is the fact that the guitars are tuned lower now for numerous songs such as "Rotten Souls" and "Hatred and Slaughter," offering a deeper and meatier sound for a nice contrast to the atmospheric instrumentation that usually illustrates the higher end of things.
Here's where they lose me, though... basically, one of the most frustrating things an established band can do is try to appease two fanbases and end up not fully pleasing either as a result. This is more or less where Carnifex lie right now; if you really enjoy the blackened death metal segment you just heard from one of the songs, too bad! You'll get a boring deathcore chug session to balance the enjoyment out. And vice versa; if you're enjoying a heavy chunky breakdown, you'll most likely get a fast tremolo-picked symphonic black metal section out of nowhere right after that. This album's inconsistency is its greatest downfall, which is a real shame because consistency was one of Until I Feel Nothing's greatest strengths. This album is 38 minutes, which is longer than any of the band's previous work, but that's not really a great thing in this case. Part of Until I Feel Nothing's appeal was how focused and concentrated it was with such a short length, and with Die Without Hope, the longer and slower songs like the title track just feel bloated. The padding and indecisiveness between genres unfortunately leads to me not remembering a handful of these songs, even after many playthroughs. The compositions end up sounding like rough cuts of what the real songs would have been, and the overall record sounds more like a transitional effort than anything.
What's really sad about those things is that the album indeed regains its momentum near the end; after the aforementioned "Reflection of the Forgotten" interlude, we get a highly melodic and even beautiful closer by the name of "Where the Light Dies." With a good mixture of brutality and melancholy, numerous well-executed tempo changes, and a lovely piano outro that gives off a doomy feel to the whole thing, and this track becomes one of Carnifex's best. Another instance of the album's potential is with the band finally including solos in their work; these are usually in the "neoclassical shredding" category and fit really well with the dark tone of the experience. New guitarist Jordan Lockrey really injects some much-needed life into a good chunk of these tracks, and his more technical style compliments the band's new direction well.
Basically, when you get down to it, this is an album that has higher ambitions than much of the deathcore genre, but had some trouble executing them. Because of Die Without Hope's attempts to please a large mass of fans at once as it spans multiple styles, it comes across as highly inconsistent and really awkward at moments. With that said, however, I found myself quite satisfied with what the band did well, such as integrating more melody and atmosphere to these arrangements. Plus, the attempted diversity is highly appreciated in this usually creatively barren genre. While Die Without Hope is a mixed bag, I enjoyed it enough to at least recommend it to Carnifex fans, fans of deathcore, or even fans of blackened death metal who are looking at a band with some potential in the genre. However, this is all I ask of you, Carnifex: please consider leaving deathcore and really dedicating yourself to these experiments you're trying. You could end up being one of the death metal greats someday.