Review Summary: Everything Versions should have been, The Tropic Rot is on par with Poison the Well's best albums.
Gone are the days of Poison the Well’s The Opposite of December, and while the number of twists and turns their musical style has taken over the past ten years is too often exaggerated, they’ve certainly evolved tremendously in the wake of their freshman classic. Arguably the pioneers of generic metalcore, it seems only fitting that they are, with their previous two albums and now The Tropic Rot, pulling it out of a tumultuous rut. I’d be poisoning the well to associate this with the thousand lineup changes they’ve gone through, so let me instead acknowledge just how damn good these guys are.
It has already been stated on this site that The Tropic Rot sounds in many ways like its predecessor Versions, just a whole lot better. This is perhaps the best short assessment of the record’s sound. To be blunt, Versions sucked, and The Tropic Rot is one of the best albums of the year so far, contrary to its ranking as the band’s worst charting album to date. It is remarkably solid from top to bottom; after numerous listens I still have trouble pinpointing an entirely weak song. Likewise, there is no clear-cut best, but we all have our favorites.
Jeff Moreira’s vocal work on this album is unbelievable, low-pitched screams and soothing cleans alike. The band songwriting avoids an excess of either, but this isn’t simply flipping back and forth between verse and chorus. This is also true of past albums, but this time the band really managed to work every fitting element of their career across the eleven songs. Exist Underground’s initial unassuming vocal hooks are contrasted beautifully by its monster chorus, which is in turn backed by epic guitar work. I haven’t even mentioned how pissed off the lyrics are, and how downright creepy they become when delivered with the album’s signature sound. I’m struggling to define it beyond a dark, dense tropical rotting feel, but just as Hopesfall rocked that spacey atmosphere throughout their career, Poison the Well are now adding a trademark touch to their music.
I can’t stress enough how consistently good this album is. Whether it’s a handful of terrific fills on the drum or an infectious lyrical bit, rarely did a song fail to add on to the album where the last left off. Throughout the album the instrumental work ranges from downright heavy in the vein of the band’s early work, to quiet and pseudo-classical guitar to fit the calmer sections. Although they still aren’t dropping snazzy, progressive riffs, everything clicks.
Despite all this excessive admiration, this album is not without flaws. Many lyrics seem forced and come off as tacky, such as the butterflies bit in Sparks it Will Rain and the opening and later repeated line in Are You Anywhere". This is unfortunate because the lyrics are otherwise spectacular, far above average for the genre. Sparks it Will Rain is also the most boring track on the album, but my biggest quip is with Celebrate the Pyre, which had potential to instill a load of adrenaline into the latter half of the album. The song is driven by some initially nice guitar work, but it’s too simple, tedious, and an ensuing abbreviated chorus dooms the song. The band was too conservative here, and lack the effort displayed everywhere else. In the end the main thing holding the album back though is its lack of a transcendent feeling, something accomplished by an As the Roots Undo or, for Converge enthusiasts, a Jane Doe. It is outstanding but has the potential to be forgotten come the end of the year and everyone’s favorite “best of” lists.
While some fans that in the past had trouble letting go of the breakdown ridden Poison the Well will more likely enjoy August Burns Red’s Constellations over this, hardcore aficionados will certainly appreciate the band’s latest release. Regardless of which genre it falls under (this is such an amalgam of genres there are even hints of screamo, more so than the run of the mill post-hardcore/metalcore album), the band finally created the album they had through previous albums been working towards. Far from a masterpiece, it is still a worthy addition to their now expansive discography. Looking back on their past trends, one could suspect another change in direction for their next album assuming they don’t call it quits. Either way, this album slays, and merits a listen or two so long as you can handle any sort of mildly heavy music in your diet.