All it took was one line to get Marskid (Mitch) all riled up. A cursory, sweeping statement about the lack of innovation in Mitch’s most-loved genre (that’s my assumption anyway) was enough of a reason to shake his fist angrily at me in a Contributor’s group discussion (off-site). Basically, it got us thinking about what actually defines a genre as “dead”, and more importantly how much life (specifically) metalcore has left in it. Rather than dismissing the thought we took our beloved Marskid down the proverbial rabbit-hole and have hesperus (Dean) expand on the points Marskid brings up.
[Nocte] Let’s start with the main question here. Is metalcore dead? To what degree and what are the challenges that bands face when writing new albums?
I’m quite comfortable in asserting that metalcore is alive and thriving. Obviously, there still lingers an elements of the mainstream sound and djent-centric groups, but their presence has diminished over time due to a lack of innovation on their end, thus leading to their stagnation. In their place are a slew of collectives, both young and old, that are either 1) bringing new ideas to the table, bringing a fresh perspective on the genre over two decades since its formation, or 2) tightening the category’s original sound, perhaps adding a personal touch to it–basically fine-tuning the heart of the musical type but not necessarily pushing it per se. This has elevated the baseline quality of your typical metalcore release as more and more bands shy away from typical tropes and try to incorporate other elements. Part of the reason a former prog-core band like Northlane recaptured press attention is because of the fact that they were willing to step outside of the box as opposed to peer bands a la Erra & co.
Obviously, when it comes down to releasing new music, the biggest barrier continues to be the infinite expanse that is the modern music market. I know I’ve repeated that so many times that it’s become a tired phrase, but the truth of it remains: it is so easy now to both create and publish music that quality inevitably becomes a completely mixed bag, with many new records in any given genre generally presenting an average-at-best standard. Metalcore bands are flocking to the scene in droves, yet it is still difficult to pick up traction. As evidenced by the cult-followings being slowly amassed for underground heroes like Seizures and Noise Trail Immersion, it is still possible.
[Nocte] You say that the publication and release of new music has become so easy these days. Where are the heroes mostly coming from? Are the major labels holding tempo with the bands still pushing forward or is there more interest from underground scenes via Bandcamp, for example?
Bandcamp continues to be an entirely divisive selection of quality. In general, I’m very happy that it exists since it does offer up a platform to any artist willing to put themselves out there. Naturally, the implication of everyone being able to have a say is replete with pitfalls, allowing anyone with an acoustic guitar that just learned the chords to “Wonderwall” to publish their self-titled about their latest break-up. Yet it is undeniable that it has provided the underground with a direct line to consumers that has not necessarily existed before to this extent. Two of my favorite modern -core acts, Zapruder and ni, were not discovered through a traditional label publication, but instead by browsing through the bandcamp tags, trying to sort out the music that might fit my fancy. A lot of duds clog up a music listening session, true. Don’t let that undervalue the great rewards that can be reaped, however. A lot of underground and even bigger-name labels and artists now use bandcamp as a primary source of merchandising and hosting records.
Bandcamp isn’t the end-all be-all of course, with other independent publications pulling their weight. Stuff like Mathcore Index, which highlighted the entertaining Callous Daoboys release earlier this year, contribute. It’s worth mentioning the site also has their own bandcamp and publishes compilations of various underground acts’ singles. So I suppose the more I consider it, the more I begin to believe bandcamp has truly become a conduit of tunes for bands.
Even big-name players like Zao operate independently, not under a label. I think the underground is pushing the line here, and if labels are involved, they’re not the usual suspects.
I’ll agree with Mars here, I don’t think metalcore is dead by any means. It’s certainly not producing as many capital-G Great albums as it was last decade, but there are enough bands doing new and interesting things with the genre to keep it fresh and moving forward. To add to the acts Mars mentioned, Frontierer’s Orange Mathematics, KEN mode’s Loved, and OLAM’s I Will Guide Thy Hand are all great examples of recent albums that have progressed the genre in some way.
But what I think is interesting about some of the acts that have come up as examples of recent, innovative metalcore in our previous discussions, is that I’m not sure how well all of them fit that genre label. Noise Trail Immersion is technically a fusion of (black) metal and hardcore, but I have a hard time thinking of them as metalcore because they steer clear of so many of the genre’s trappings. The Armed was certainly a metalcore band at one time, but I’m not sure if that’s how I’d categorize Only Love. That makes me wonder if the existing experiments in metalcore will lead to even more of a genre revival in the 2020s, or if they’ll pave the way for something else entirely, like how post-metal gave way to post-black metal this decade.
[Nocte] What other genres do you feel are actually stagnating or dying? Are there any genres that simply won’t come back?
I’ll catch some flack for this, but I stand by my notion that deathcore has creatively expired. Yes, there have been a few new names added to the usual roster of players, but many others have expired or simply ran out of steam as time went on (Thy Art, Despised Icon, etc.). Others nearly or fully jumped ship and found success where they landed (Slice the Cake, Job for a Cowboy). Former innovations have never been expanded on; Exoplanet (The Contortionist) has remained uncontested as the best deathcore album ever made, and Ascariasis’ work on Ocean of Colour has gone continuously ignored, even by the band themselves (their ‘reunion’ work was a massive disappointment). Acts currently receiving acclaim such as Shadow of Intent are strong in their own right, but they’re not pushing boundaries and I wouldn’t say they’re fine-tuning the sound either (assuming you consider them deathcore at this point to begin with)–they got beat to the mountain of symphonic-infused deathcore by Ovid’s Withering, Make Them Suffer already turned heads with their keys usage, and before them all there was Mortal Treason. It’s breakdowns and brees once again and I wouldn’t be surprised to see deathcore slowly fade in the next few years.
Outside of that, I think there are many genres that have fallen out of prominence and don’t really have any level of spotlight left on them; even though I believe deathcore is dead or dying, it does still have an iota of attention on it to an extent. Ska has been abandoned, with probably Jeff Rosenstock being the only major name to still be including elements of it, and there’s Streetlight Manifesto. That’s about it there. The synthwave movement fizzled out very quickly after its initial popularity due to an absence of creative thinking and a startlingly-rapid oversaturation of the genre, with only Perturbator and Carpenter Brut maintaining praise and relevance in the wake (and maybe GosT). Downtempo/beatdown–the Traitors and Black Tongue crowd–has thankfully expired. I don’t see much of reggae anywhere these days either. I feel like I could keep going, there are unfortunately quite a few categories that have been left behind.
Post-rock has been pretty stagnant for years, thanks to the legion of Explosions in the Sky imitators making it grow stale. In the past few years, only a handful of albums (mostly from genre heavy-hitters from the 2000s) seemed to catch anyone’s attention. Everyone else has just been sprinkling elements of the genre into emo and black metal.
About a year ago, I would have lamented that screamo was close to dead. Even though I’ve loved the recent albums from bands like ostraca and Birds in Row, I couldn’t exactly say they were elevating or progressing the genre. But then this year, Shin Guard came in with the one-two punch of 2020 and Death of Spring, injecting screamo with ethereal shoegaze and a Fall of Troy-esque mathiness that somehow comes together really well, and OLAM added I Will Guide Thy Hand to the mix, blending screamo with a metalcore bite. Looking back, there’s also last year’s Let Pain Be Your Guide from Portrayal of Guilt, which at the time felt like an anomaly but now could very well be part of a trend. I’m hopeful that bands like these could herald a screamo renaissance in the 2020s.
[Nocte] How does nu-metal stack up here? While it doesn’t strictly fall into the category of ‘core’ it still plays on some, if not most of the formula that has driven the “mainstream” metal community. I mean there’s your late 90s early 00s bands still releasing material with any measurable amount of success, but there’s a rather lack of mainstream new-nu groups? Would this define a stale, stagnation of a particular genre?
Nu-metal is in an interesting position, since I feel it has certainly fallen by the wayside but may perhaps have a way of being bailed out. It was a scene heavily crafted by the time it was born in, and it has since diminished as listeners ‘grew up’ and the bands they once cherished seemingly failed to do so–or in the case of Linkin Park, grew in a vastly different direction. Not many new bands are in the fray and those that do join aren’t doing anything in the new ideas department or advancing the sound. However, with the recent resurgence of Korn and the surprising success of We Are Not Your Kind, there could still be a pulse in nu-metal somewhere. Slipknot was able to rekindle the fire of the Iowa days and they even, dare I say it, experimented a little bit on certain tracks. There’s a chance for survival if anyone determined enough wants to try and follow in those particular footsteps, but I’m definitely not optismitc; the scene has been starving for far too long and it’s been made into the butt of musical jokes.
I admittedly never followed nu-metal too closely so I might be the completely wrong person to ask, but my impression is that the only bands still doing anything in the genre are the ones that were popular in the 2000s (and the side projects of members of said bands), and most of those bands don’t seem to be doing anything terribly new, which to me is a pretty good indication that the genre is dead.
[Nocte] What bands (and more specifically their albums) do you feel are kicking this misconception? What has really stuck out to you and what do these records have that specifically keep metalcore ticking over (trends, influences, sound-borrowing etc)?
Secondly, what bands are creating this feeling that metalcore is in fact dead, standing against those points you’ve brought up at the top of this piece?
I know 2018 has been referenced quite a bit, but I do believe that that year showcased the full potential of metalcore’s evolution. There were a plethora of groups toughening the sound in their own ways while other collectives engaged in a hefty amount of experimentation. Rolo Tomassi is the easiest go-to example, sure, but others like Noise Trail Immersion are just as worth mentioning. Symbology of Shelter is a monstrous album full of swirling, technical riffs held together by ominous tremolos and a dissonant atmosphere. It’s about as far into the black metal spectrum the genre has advanced ever, barring past achievements by The Secret (and both these artists are Italian… something in the water?), who is also still kickin’ around these days. Noise Trail’s sophomore effort deserves the acclaim it has earned and is emblematic of the creative thinking metalcore bands are attempting. Zapruder’s self-titled is another example of brilliance wherein post-metal, bluesy hard-rock vibes, and party-infused metalcore are tossed together in a pot and thoroughly mixed to perfection. It’s probably one of the most ‘fun’ metalcore albums I’ve ever heard, and it does so by incorporating elements not often, if ever seen in the genre. Credit where credit is due for also include a saxophone and not coming across as a gimmick.
If we’re allowed to stretch metalcore to include its general power and potency as an influence, then look no further than The Hirsch Effekt. Starting with Holon: Agnosie and moving forward to Eskapist, the band has begun shifting their eclectic identity of post-rock, metal, electronic, classic, etc. (they have a looong list) to one that possessed Dillinger Escape Plan mathy tendencies, an introduction no doubt facilitated by the German trio opening a series of shows for TDEP prior to making Agnosie. Of course they are not solely metalcore, but their modern records certainly wear the genre proudly. Then there are a number of acts, Palm Reader embodying the cream of the crop, that aren’t particularly pushing boundaries, but they’re taking the hardcore-favoring side of metalcore–more of a classical approach in the context of the scene–and making it sound fresh by adding their own little spin to it, namely in the vocal department, melodies, and their flirtations with post-metal. To Hesp’s earlier point, I do believe the future in metalcore lies within forward-thinking actors that are engaging in rigorous fusion. These efforts are further supported by a slew of quality bands that offer something more familiar and arguably more accessible, but they are far from being copycats.
If someone is determined enough to write off metalcore as dead, there are admittedly plenty of easy pickings to use as ammunition. Obviously I’m not a fan of the prog-core movement and firmly contend it is very limited per its established tropes that are used to define it. There’s also the, erm, ‘modern’ sound or however you wish to call it. Stuff like Attila, Veil of Maya, Issues, We Came as Romans, Miss May I, Word Alive, Sylar, Crystal Lake, and so on and so on. Even the acts out of this bunch that earn acclaim for being ‘different’ such as Currents really aren’t dissimilar from the crowd whatsoever–standard djenty-boys fare. Then the ones that manage to break the mold somehow end up gradually fading into an unfortunate state of obscurity (looking at you Invent, Animate. New album when?).
To answer your second question first, my sense is that there’s definitely an established list of metalcore tropes that many if not most bands pull from: breakdowns, fast-paced technical sections, melodic sections with clean vocals, etc. This decade, metalcore bands have also become very fond of djent-y guitar, which has become something of a stale trope itself. There are certainly bands that execute these tropes well (Employed to Serve comes to mind), but if we want to talk about bands that are propelling the genre forward, we need to look at the ones that have stepped away from such tropes to find a unique sound and approach. In my mind, one of the best examples is Frontierer. Rather than sticking to the established metalcore ethos of adding bits of melody and clean tones for the sake of variety, Frontierer are completely, intensely devoted to heaviness and distortion, to the point where they’ve found guitar tones more pulverizing than I had previously thought possible. And since the release of Orange Mathematics, you can totally hear their influence in bands like Sectioned and Vein. They didn’t just find a sound they could call their own, they found a sound that could (and did) change the genre itself.
[Nocte] I want to throw some albums at you guys for a quick fire summary. This is less about the quality of the record, but more about how it may or may not stack up in terms of genre life, innovation, forward-thinking, revitalisation etc. You game?
OLAM – I Will Guide Thy Hand (2019)
This is a group well worth watching as they evolve. Their core sound is very strong but admittedly relies a bit on Converge-sponsored chaotic heaviness. A dosage of screamo elements make up for this as well as an increased emphasis on melody. Where OLAM really show potential, and where I hope they develop, are within their brief forays into post-metal territory. The approach they apply to songs–very crescendo-oriented–is reminiscent of the style, and when they commit more to that structuring (ex: the closing title track), they resemble a sound I never thought would make a resurgence: The Woman You Saw… by Harlots. That haze-infested, biting, discordant production is a clear callback to that past methodology, and I sincerely hope they stop beating around the post-metal bush and dive straight in. It’s already an excellent sonic identity they got going for them, yet what intrigues me the most is how exactly they can take this. An exciting act to be sure.
I don’t think it’s any secret that I love this album to death, and a big reason for that is that I find their particular blend of metalcore and emoviolence both unique and highly compelling. OLAM brings a level of emotionality to metalcore and a degree of bite to screamo that are rare in those genres, and I would love for more bands to take a page from their book. I’m a little disappointed that the album hasn’t taken off more, especially on Sputnikmusic, but it’s still very early in the band’s career. They’ve got plenty of time to find their audience, and when they do, I’m anticipating that they’ll have a pretty sizable influence on both metalcore and screamo.
Converge – The Dusk In Us (2018)
This definitely isn’t what anyone would refer to as a reinventing of the wheel and moreso just Converge playing to their usual strengths. It’s very enjoyable, but it doesn’t reach the high standards set by previous entries in their discography–a mighty difficult task to begin with. The fact that the group can still release quality tunes over two decades in their career is a commendable feat, and it’s definitely a great boost for the metalcore scene that one of its pivotal founders is still alive and kickin’.
The Dusk in Us is a perfectly serviceable Converge album, but I think it’s stylistically too similar to their last couple albums to be anything groundbreaking or influential. I’m loath to describe the album as Converge resting on their laurels, because they’ve never been a band to relax and take the easy route. But it’s Converge doing what they do best, rather than taking their career somewhere new. As a result, I don’t foresee the album changing the metalcore game in the same way that Jane Doe, You Fail Me, or even All We Love We Leave Behind did.
The Contortionist – Our Bones (2019)
I’m on record as having never listened to this and also possessing no desire to do so. My complaints regarding the evolution of The Contortionist’s are equally well-documented; they departed from what made them special and in doing so became another cog in the machine. Their legacy to deathcore is practically nonexistent, though that’s not entirely their fault–the scene they came from opted to ignore Exoplanet because breakdowns are heavy as fuk, man. Every Contortionist song since Language has sounded absolutely lifeless both vocally and instrumentally, lacking any hint of originality, simply drifting in and out without any substance to ground the tunes. They have become the quintessential mark of ‘average’ when it comes to prog metal/post-rock. I guess it’s led to critical acclaim and success so good for them. I can’t really stomach the direction they’ve taken personally.
In the spirit of this interview thingymajig, I gave this a listen and… well, it’s quite terrible, honestly. It makes me want to revisit their last two albums since it’s been a long enough time and maybe they’re actually worse than I remember. Everything here is so painfully standard and it doesn’t even display a modicum of progression. The vocals sound so over-produced it’s painfully obnoxious, not to mention his range is about as broad as a thimble. No intriguing guitar bits, no melodies to cling to, the post-rock is extinct, and then a butchering of Smashing Pumpkins. Could probably fall to a 1.5 if I ever wanted another try at it.
I have to admit I’m not terribly familiar with The Contortionist, so I can’t speak to how this EP fits into their broader career. But in terms of how it contributes to metalcore as a whole, pretty much everything it does is unsurprising, with the exception of deciding to cover the Smashing Pumpkins (and even then, like the rest of the EP, its execution of said cover is profoundly…okay). The Contortionist tones down the aggression of its metalcore and adds some progginess, and it’s all been done before. I don’t hate it, but I’m having a really hard time giving a damn.
Amia Venera Landscape – The Long Procession (2010)
Yeah, still my favorite album of all time from what I’ve heard, and it’s undoubtedly the greatest exhibition of metalcore’s power in the modern era. It has yet to be replaced, but its post-metal influences have seeped into the scene to boost metalcore into more atmospheric territory. Discussing this can be difficult at times since it really is a release I truly, deeply cherish, but I’ll do my best: the guitar work is masterclass for the genre, blending mathcore chaos with gorgeous, polished melodies, the drumming–fuck me, the drumming on this–is absolutely monstrous in its technicality and also in its restraint, the vocals are a beastly bellow paired alongside raw, emotional cleans, the bass is an everpresent source of groove and low-end heaviness, the ambient and post-metal sections are the best ambient and post-metal sections–they set a mood, they progress so well, they’re not just dull static–song structures vary, lyrics are awesome, the list just goes on. The fact that so many members are involved but all of them are heard is incredible; the layering on each track is incredibly immersive due to how much is at play at any given time. Even those less sold on the album can agree “Empire” is one of the best metalcore tracks of all time.
On occasion, I hesitate to mention Amia Venera Landscape in the context of the modern scene, because although their influence is felt, they themselves are absent. Their abandonment of the band, their fans and the musical category they set ablaze is a massive disappointment, especially with the knowledge that their promise of a double-album five years ago–their last update provided–will forever be unfulfilled. It’s a painful realization and a huge loss of talent to metalcore. However, that should not devalue what AVL has left behind and the staying power of their tunes. They continue to resonate as they very well should, and the scene can evidently prosper without AVL in the game. I still get chills when the opening chord of “Empire” hits, when that astounding breakdown breaks down the door in “My Hands Will Burn First,” and that cathartic climax of “The Traitors’ March.” Very few albums deserve a 5 in my book, and even fewer deserve the attached descriptor of ‘classic’. But goddamn does The Long Procession earn both.
I would love to be able to say that The Long Procession has become a metalcore touchstone in the nine years since its release, because their Misery-Signals-with-a-splash-of-Rosetta-and-cranked-up-to-eleven style was remarkably refreshing in 2010 and still mostly holds up today. But I just don’t think it’s true. Besides the fact that Amia Venera Landscape never released a second album, I haven’t heard their influence in the work of any other bands. Maybe I’m just not looking in the right places, but my impression has been that the album made a big splash when it came out and found a comfortable place in a lot of listeners’ rotations, but didn’t end up impacting the metalcore scene much beyond that.