Review Summary: God bless the motherf**king USA!!
One of the biggest problems I see with politically themed lyrics in music is the lack of action that is present in the band's credo. Green Day's 2004 rock opera "American Idiot", although undoubtably iconic, has always been an empty statement to me, as it criticizes the American way, through the parables of Jesus of Suburbia, but presents nothing to solve its flaws. Some groups, such as Molotov Solution, revolve the identity of the band around its political messages, screaming things such as "Justice is forgotten and liberty is dead!" Unfortunately, the same applies here, that they can yell about how bad America is all they want, but its ramifications are similar to criticizing religion: the inevitable "so what"" If no one does anything about a presented issue, what is the purpose of presenting it"
Death Of An Era is a five-piece metalcore/deathcore collective originating from Columbus, Ohio, with a thematic focus on political and religious controversy, tinged with an accessible personal touch. While their music is nothing original or new, they play a brand of metalcore that is technical yet accessible, and experimental yet tenacious. When glancing at the tracklist of their Razor & Tie debut full-length "Black Bagged", it looks very much so like a CD that Molotov Solution would release, with politically themed titles such as "We the People", "Big Brother", "Tyrannicide", and "Prescription Poison". However, although the shift is subtle, DOAE does not criticize the American way directly, but rather the governmental secrecy and concealment practices that it unfortunately implies.
The first track, "The Warning" opens and sets the mood, but it defies metalcore stereotypes, as it is not an introductory breakdown track, but rather excerpts of John F. Kennedy's 1961 "President and the Press" speech. It highlights lines such as "The very word 'secrecy' is repugnant in a free and open society" and "For we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence." While using this may come across as pretentious and childish ("omg america sux lol"), the ending sets a different tone: "... I am asking your help in the tremendous task of informing and alerting the American people... confident that with your help, man will be what he was born to be: free and independent." It becomes clear at the end of this track that Death of an Era's purpose is to inform, not simply criticize.
Musically, although nothing new, these guys are a melting pot of different influences, adding hints of symphonic metal and djent into their core metalcore/deathcore sound. The first real track, "We the People", is most prevalently symphonic, opening up with a growled "Justice will prevail!" and a breakdown laced with keys and orchestral textures that would not sound out of place in a Make Them Suffer record. "Big Brother" utilizes a palm muted pseudo-djenty tone in its galloping breakdowns, as well as a chugfest that seems to mock deathcore stereotypes, making it appear like an Oceano-esque two-beats-per-minute breakdown initially, then hitting listeners with a sudden upbeat attack. "False Idols" and "Illusionist (pt. 2)" have technical guitar work and mathy polyrhythmic riffing that resemble the dissonant technicality of early Architects. "Tyrannicide" again utilizes the symphonic elements, but also has a low-end tremolo riffing that brings to mind the death metal influence in deathcore seen in Fit For An Autopsy's latest outing. "Home" and "Better Off" contrast the mechanical sound of previous tracks with an emotional melodic dimension that relates its message of loneliness and heartbreak quite well. "Commoner" features an infectious clean chorus, in spite of the generally unexciting clean vocals (more on that later), as well as an interesting eerie ambient fade out. Instrumentals "Reflection" and "Inanimate Earth" are well placed breaks from the heaviness.
Through the largely successful experimentations of these various tracks, as well as the energy presented in DOAE's core sound, this record proves to be an immensely fun listen, as guitarists Nathan Stewart and Dustin Colling are impressively versatile in rhythms, melodic technicality, and ambient sustained character, and largely refrain from pulling the same tricks. Drummer Michael Cooper also showcases immense energy, with impressive fills and speedy double bass patterns. The production value here is also quite crisp, and every instrument is heard. This allows for the energy that is presented, much to the band's benefit.
Lyrically, as aforementioned, this record focuses predominantly on political issues, and the messages tend to either be solemn or fun as hell. Tracks such as "Commoner" or "Better Off" encourage listeners to be proactive in addressing political issues, and to not let societal or political labels define them. "We the People", "The Global Movement", and "Tyrannicide" call out corrupt governmental figures, refuting their authority in context to the strength in numbers of the common people. "Home" focuses on the absence of a loved one and the absence of feeling at home as the result, as the first line states: "Wise men say that home is where the heart is, and if this is true, I haven't been home in ages." While these lyrics are fairly heavy and serious, relying on the common theme, the biting humor of punchy lines in "Big Brother" and "Prescription Poison" is just fun to listen to. The former contrasts the freedom the USA seems to offer with the constant surveillance and secret monitoring, concluding with "God bless the motherf**king USA". The latter focuses on the corruption of the food and pharmaceutical industries, critiquing the American solution of taking a pill for all problems as well as the fake food for most profit, with the great line, "Eat up, eat up, motherf**kers, it's dinnertime in the US." While lyrically inconsistent, the contrast between grave and satirical adds texture to the record.
"Illusionist (pt. 2)" alone heavily criticizes religion, which, at face value, appears immature and provocative: "You blindly follow every word, the world is crippled by its faith... God is dead and we have killed him, reject the church and use your common sense. This is now the age of reason. You use your faith as a placebo." While these lyrics pull every religious critique cliche in the book, in context to an earlier song "A Mother's Love" (from their 2013 EP "The Great Commonwealth"), the songwriter's lack of faith is attributed to his mother's overwhelmingly strict religious upbringing contrasted with her absence of love. Thus, while this track's lyrics are rather cliche, the meaning behind these inflammatory statements is at least understandable and sensible upon further inspection.
As with the case of every modern metalcore record out there, there are issues with this album. First and foremost, there is nothing incredibly innovative here. There are tons of breakdowns, which can either help a song ("We the People") or hinder it ("Home"). The psych out slow breakdown trick that is pulled in "Big Brother" is also pulled in three other songs ("The Global Movement", "Commoner" and "False Idols"), which results in a loss of impact as time goes on. An unfortunately large negative, which thankfully does not happen often, is the flatness of the clean vocals. Vocalist Daniel Simpson shows a great vocal performance here, from incredibly effective gutturals to mid-range powerful highs. However, his singing voice is quite boring and only shines occasionally in the aforesaid "Commoner" or "Home", but fails to impress in tracks such as "We the People" or "Tyrannicide."
Previously, my only exposure to this group is seeing them tour with other bands with whom I am more familiar, and having a nice chuckle when they often tour with metalcore up-and-comers Erra. While they certainly hold a similar sound to other collectives of similar conviction, such as Erra, Carcer City, and Of Virtue, they hold their own in the saturated clutter of metalcore cliches with a largely effective political theme and darkly experimental but simultaneously energetically entertaining sound. Although nothing mindblowingly innovative or revolutionarily astounding, "Black Bagged" accomplishes what it sets out to accomplish, in criticizing but also alerting, as well as putting forward solid musicianship and great vocals. Although imperfect, Death of an Era's full-length has very little filler, and a high replay value, showcasing the potential for what looks like a prosperous and fulfilling career.