Review Summary: Chelsea grin finally complete their ascendancy from generic and simple 'core' metal.
It has become general consensus within the 'deathcore' scene, to regard chelsea grin as a somewhat naive and simplistic outfit, boasting little more than frequent breakdowns, repetitive high pitched vocals, and a healthy pinch of 'chug chug chug', for want of a better phrase. However, following the rather significant technical and inventive progression on the 'Evolve EP', it would seem that the Utan sextet have finally prevailed within their genre, and produced something not only practically and inventively mature, but something that comes close to epitomising modern deathcore in all its glory.
Without wanting to appear merely as a common 'fanboy', I feel it is imperative to begin my analysis of the beauty of this album by discussing Alex Khoeler's remarkable vocal performance. For me, this entire release provides a perfect display of a vocalist who is consistently improving, and shows absolutely no sign of vocal strain or fatigue whatsoever. Spanning ten seconds shy of an hour, Ashes To Ashes flaunts continually staggering high pitches screams combined with deep, throaty lows to create a wonderful contrast that flawlessly complements the equally impressive instrumental. Similarly, little can be taken away from Alex's lyrical contribution to the record; moving swiftly on from the over-stressed and mundane topics of sadistic vengeance and childish fiction, Ashes to Ashes for the most part flaunts undeniably elegant and sentimentally charged lyrical content. The slightly weaker and arguably more childish lyrics on the album ("I'll fight your dad, and fuck your mother too", among others) I feel can be overlooked, as it seems that Alex and his band have somewhat earned the right to flaunt cocky and obscure lyrics pertaining to very little; It can be put down to development of persona and ego if looked at from the right angle. It is undeniable that not only Khoeler himself, but the band as a unit, have strategically breached the boundaries of their former 'scene' persuasion, and produced something one could justifiably consider artistic.
Similarly, I feel that little can be faulted in terms of the band's instrumental performance on the album. Guitar work, particularly from former Born of Osiris man Jason Richardson, advances above and beyond most within the genre, and perfectly contributes to the impression that this band have taken a colossal step forward in terms of technical ability. Over the course of the record, Jason successfully boasts an elaborate array of sweep picking, tapping, crushing solos, and addictive hooks that give the songs a whole new dynamic. Richardson, alongside rhythm guitarists Jake Harmond and Dan Jones, even unexpectedly delve into the all too common realm of 'Djent' during '...To Ashes', which surprisingly enough adds a beautiful contrast to the rest of the album rather than appearing as predictable and lazy. This track in particular I feel is the most noteworthy on the album by far: The face-melting intro/solo performed by Jason Richardson is undoubtedly reminiscent of 'The human condition', and will therefore grasp die-hard CG disciples who still worship the 'Desolation of Eden' era; as the song progresses, intricate and complex guitar and drum work is boasted, and as aforementioned, a slight 'Djent' persuasion is integrated to add a flawless contrast between traditional Chelsea Grin sound, and experimentation with newer techniques. Not letting the team down in the slightest, Pablo Viveros' drum work takes this release to a whole new level, and undoubtedly solidifies the 'deathcore' element that the band have always been loosely associated with. From start to finish, Pablo's every fill, breakdown, and blast beat appears more complex than the last, and doesn't fail at all to create the impression that Chelsea Grin really have put everything into this release.
Despite the detail that one could potentially delve into when reviewing this record, the main appeal of it can be summarised with ease: it is far heavier than anything the band have previously written. Ashes to Ashes comes across as a solid deathcore release, bordering on death metal at times courtesy of certain elements. For example, in stumbling across track number five, 'Illuminate, I genuinely felt as if I'd accidentally played a Carnifex song instead. The intensity of the riffs, fast paced blast beats and fry screams, create a sound undoubtedly reminiscent of bands that would be considered much heavier, and I feel that this is a remarkable achievement for Chelsea grin, being a band that many have perceived merely as angsty scene kids.
So by now you're probably thinking that I haven't a single bad thing to say about this album; wrong. It would be absurd to leave no room for improvement, and I feel that despite this being a remarkable release, there is still progression to be made. The main issue that needs addressing is the fact that the immature scene aspect will undoubtedly still be perceived by some as still being present. Why? Breakdowns. Lots of them. Personally, I love the amount of breakdowns on this album, purely because I feel it is justifiable if you have the ability to write each one differently and uniquely complex (which CG clearly do). However, again, pretentious metalheads will no doubt claim that Chelsea grin are still yet another 'core' band, who write music to open up pits and nothing else, and I guess this is something that can't be ignored.
In summary, there hasn't been a release that has made me this proud as a metal fan for quite a while. Being one of my favourites, Chelsea grin have always in my eyes had the potential to produce something incredible, and after listening to all 15 tracks repeatedly, I can confirm that they have finally done so. The 'core' elements have been virtually stripped away, and complexity prevails from start to finish, resulting in an album that will no doubt become ground-breaking in the deathcore sphere.