Review Summary: In the end, this is still a deathcore album. However, a sprinkling of new elements such as melody and stronger songwriting make this the band's best release yet.
Yet another new Chelsea Grin release. The Utah deathcore outfit, critically known for their generic approach to the genre in the past, aim to go above and beyond on this release by incorporating new elements such as melody, clean/harmonized vocals, atmosphere, electronic interludes, and classical instruments. But do these new elements really make the band stand out on their third LP?
After following the band for the past four years or so, it’s clear the six-piece wants to break free from the generic deathcore stigma associated with their name and prove they can craft a standout LP. On their previous release, Evolve, newly acquired guitarist Jason Richardson showed that there was a lot he could bring to the table. While still nothing spectacular, Evolve showed the band experiment with new sounds, actual riffing, lead guitar and melody, among other things. The trend continues on Ashes to Ashes, and is definitely a much-welcomed addition to their traditional “chugga-chugga” sound. Songs like “Waste Away” and “Clockwork” are prime examples of these new elements, and mix up the typical breakdown-laden structure found in prior releases. That’s not to say there aren’t breakdowns – There are still plenty, trust me. Richardson’s melodies and lead work in the aforementioned tracks, and others like “Illuminate” and “… To Ashes,” can truly be spectacular at times, but often seem too “showy” and detract from the song itself. It is clear that the guitarists aimed to vary their playing on this release to avoid chugging riffs and breakdowns, but they still crop up much more than they should. Expect to hear extended br00tal sections and downtuned “goodness.” The newfound technicality courtesy of Jason was much needed though, and his contributions saved the album from being overtly boring.
While the guitars stand out on this record, the rhythmic instruments take a back seat, and are pretty average. Drummer Pablo Viveros holds the songs together with precise double-bass patterns and beats, but never truly stands out on any of the tracks. It was nice to hear blast-beats and fills that are more sophisticated this time around, but none of the tracks showcase any virtuosic playing. Another gripe of mine is the bass guitar. On Evolve, bassist David Flinn had a few memorable lines (“Confession,” in particular) and his instrument worked well in the mix, but this is lost on Ashes to Ashes. This leads to my major grievance of this record – the mixing. It may just be the fact that I’ve been listening to leaked tracks for the past month, but it seems that the bass drum lacks any true punch, and the rhythm guitar tone seems muddy. The rhythm playing overpowers the lead guitar lines in some tracks such as “Playing with Fire” and “Angels Shall Sin, Demons Shall Pray.” It may just be my ear, but the mix could be sharper and more hard-hitting like their past releases.
The lyrics and vocals on Ashes to Ashes are what you would expect from a Chelsea Grin release. This time around, however, Alex Koehler takes the back seat on a few tracks to let Pablo handle lows, harmonies, and cleans. Koehler’s signature nasally high scream can be heard on just about every track, but Pablo’s contributions are a nice addition. “Playing With Fire,” “Pledge Allegiance” and “Waste Away” are good examples of high/low screams between the two vocalists, and sung/screamed sections sound much more serious than on Evolve (I’m talking about you, Lilith and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell). It’s clear that Alex is losing some of his vocal capability, so the screeching highs aren’t as piercing and, well, annoying, as past releases. Lyrically, Ashes to Ashes, leaves much to be desired. Songs focus on the same concepts as before: Being your own person, anti-religion, *** what others think, etc. (What did you really expect these guys to write about? Hopefully nothing sophisticated.) There are definitely cringe-worthy lyrics scattered throughout the fifteen tracks. Some of my favorites include:
I’ll fight your dad, and *** your mother too
I hate your message, and pretending that I like you
Another personal favorite comes from the track “Playing With Fire”:
Burn Burn Burn
Let’s burn this bastard to the ground
So, as you can see, Ashes to Ashes is what you’d expect from Chelsea Grin. It’s typical deathcore: breakdowns, laughable lyrical content, and basic song structure, albeit with a nice sprinkling of melody, semi-technical rhythm and lead work, and “safe” experimentation. This record won’t impress most of you Sputnik elitists, but I found this to be a very fun release to jam in the car or when you’re in the mood for heavy music. Some songs here really show potential for Chelsea Grin, and it sucks to see them waste it with banal chugging patterns and lyrics. “Ashes… To Ashes” is a nice instrumental piece that showcases the use of piano, stringed instruments, and some awesome lead guitar shredding compliments of Jason Richardson. The last three tracks are some of the most impressing of Chelsea Grin’s career. The electronic bits scattered throughout “Clockwork” are subtle enough that they add atmosphere and versatility to the track, and “Dust to Dust” has some nice lead work, and shows the band delve into some symphonic territory that is a pleasant change of pace.
To sum it all up, Ashes to Ashes is a fun release, but is still falls victim to some of the stereotypical deathcore issues. The awesome lead guitar work, atmospheric and melodic elements, and changes to the vocals make this release much more enjoyable than past albums, but this is still Chelsea Grin, the band we’ve all grown to love (or hate). Expect a plethora of breakdowns, pretty ***ty lyrics, and slightly above-average (at best) song-writing across the fifteen tracks. If you didn’t hold high regards for Chelsea Grin before, there’s a good chance Ashes to Ashes won’t change your opinion. In the end, this is still a deathcore album, though; don’t let the flashy guitar parts and hype fool you.
Ashes… To Ashes
Dust to Dust
Chelsea Grin are:
Alex Koehler – Vocals
Jason Richardson – Guitars
Dan Jones – Guitars
Jake Harmond – Guitars
David Flinn – Bass
Pablo Viveros – Drums and Vocals
Final rating: 3.7/5