Review Summary: According to HighWiredDaze, As Artifacts can be described as "a mix between Attack Attack! and The Devil Wears Prada with some heavy metal influences"... however you decide to interpret that.
As Artifacts is a 7-piece metalcore band from Concord, California. Their first EP, "Reclamation", was released in 2011, to a fairly negative response due to their very generic sound and, the bane of modern metalcore, tons of breakdowns. I have to admit, though, judging by the beautifully bleak cover and the rumors of good theme and heartfelt lyrics of 2012's "Strong Hands", I was rather excited to hear this one. Unfortunately, "Strong Hands" is a mixed bag, both in theme and lyrics and oftentimes in musical consistency (except for the breakdowns; they're pretty much always there).
From what I heard, "Strong Hands" is supposed to be similar in theme to The Plot In You's "First Born", and in many ways it is, as its lyrics often focus on domestic abuse and its effects on the individuals involved. However, we're introduced to excessive breakdowns and childish lyrics that don't match up with the theme of these issues. Right off the back, with "Generation of Swine", we're treated to growled lyrics of "You f**king swine", the only lyrics to the song, and a breakdown with an angelic synth playing over it. It sounds unfortunately almost exactly like a breakdown from one of The Browning's songs. This is not a good thing, both fundamentally and in execution.
Songs "Chugs Ahoy" and "Threat Level: Midnight" are from As Artifacts' EP, and these songs are among the weakest of the tracks on the album, due to unfocused lyrics (in contrast to the theme of the album) and "br00tal" breakdowns. Also, closer "Retribution" is a song from the EP as well, just with a different name (the original song was entitled "SuperDoom"), and it also suffers from the same problem. Other weaker songs, original to this LP, are cuts such as "Sons of Corvinus" and "Embrace the Plague," especially the former. While these songs are certainly not as weak as the repeats from "Reclamation", "Embrace the Plague" suffers from a weak chorus and too much repetition of it. "Sons of Corvinus" takes a completely different approach, adding horror elements to the lyrics (it's about vampires) and adding Gothic sounding organs. While this is unique, it's completely out of place and the album suffers overall.
While this album is certainly very generic and average, there are certain elements that show the band's potential, and keep the entirety of it from descending into utter terribleness. For instance, the songs "1119", "Bilbo Swaggins" (which wins the award for worst song title on the album), and instrumental "For the Lost Lenore" showcase a unique melodic side that touches on many moods. From the eerie plucking of "Bilbo Swaggins" to the sad synth buildup and plucking over a breakdown of "1119", to the passionate dynamic structure of the instrumental, these guys clearly have some talent.
Vocalist Travis Bartosek is also a plus, his growls forceful and his husky screeches unique. The clean vocals, done by guitarist Rudy Rusatti, unfortunately fall flat, as they lack unique tone and are rather tedious in terms of pitch. The guitars, as mentioned above, are capable as seen in their melodic licks, but often sadly resort to mindless chugging and breaking down. Drummer Michael Yankovich shows potential, showing unique double bass rhythms and good use of cymbals and fills, but also falls into the same trap as the guitarists.
Lyrically, the majority of the album focuses on a child's angry reaction to growing up in a broken home, and talks about "I could tell you about all those times I spent all night crying alone and scared" ("Dissension"); "All you'll find is a result of your negligence" ("Bilbo Swaggins"); "You are nothing more than a mannequin of flesh and blood, an empty shell of what used to be a man" ("Embrace the Plague"); "A wolf in sheep's skin preying on the innocent, I should have listened when you told me, 'You will end up like him'" ("1119"); "Look me in the eyes when you push me off. Your own flesh and blood, I was never good enough. I tried so hard to be everything you wanted me to be" ("Strong Hands"). Even within the context of these honest lyrics, sometimes As Artifacts takes these too far and resorts to using the word "f**k" too liberally, especially in terms of senseless violence, seen later in songs such as "Strong Hands" and "Embrace the Plague."
Another thing worth mentioning is As Artifacts' image. To their credit, unlike groups such as Asking Alexandria or Bring Me The Horizon or even Motionless In White, these guys clearly aren't going for the emo, badass, or goth look at all. In that respect, they remind me a bit like August Burns Red, because they look like a bunch of college students having fun, which adds to their personableness and accessibility ("Check out their video for "Bilbo Swaggins"). While this certainly does not excuse their lack of innovation, it shows that they're not in it to prove anything.
Overall, although they show signs of potential, As Artifacts' full-length "Strong Hands" proves to be a disappointment, existing as a clone of today's synth-laden breakdown-heavy metalcore groups. Perhaps in the future they will embrace what makes them unique and build on it, and perhaps we'll see some wholesome music from these guys.