Review Summary: Metal's resident goofballs grow up.
Since arriving on the scene with their self-released, self-titled EP in 2007, iwrestledabearonce has developed a reputation as the biggest goofballs in metal. A majority of their song titles are either obscure pop culture references or cheap jokes (ex: "Tastes Like Kevin Bacon" and "Karate Nipples",) their songs heavily featured unexpected forays into weird genres such as disco and lounge music, and all of their music videos are loaded with immature humor. On their fourth album, Hail Mary, iwrestledabearonce takes themselves completely seriously for the first time in career and that change in tone allows them to craft the most cohesive album of their career so far.
Anyone who has heard any of iwrestledabearonce's music before will be completely thrown off by Hail Mary. The variations of metal/deathcore they've played on their previous three albums has been swapped out for an ultra-technical chaotic mathcore sound that is reminiscent of acts like The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza and The Number Twelve Looks Like You. This change in style suits them remarkably well and allows them to write the most complex and focused material they've ever created. Save for the fully clean-sung and melodic "Doomed to Fail Part 2", Hail Mary is a gut punch of an album that hardly ever lets up for the duration of the 45-minute runtime. Guitarists Steven Bradley and Mike Stringer drop a constant stream of dizzying leads and punishing grooves that absolutely pummel the listener. Even when they came up for a moment on songs like "Trips", "Green Eyes" and the album's centerpiece track "Doomed to Fail Part I", the breakneck intensity doesn't ever really go away. Guitarwork this consistently technical can get old after a while, but Bradley and Stringer do an excellent job of keeping things fresh by constantly switching the riffs up. The duo hardly stick to same riff or tempo for more than 10-15 seconds at a time and that brilliant musical A.D.D. plays a large role in making Hail Mary such an invigorating listen.
iwrestleabearonce's new sound is further solidified by the performance of vocalist Courtney LaPlante. LaPlante joined the band during the writing cycle for their last record, 2013's Late for Nothing, after the sudden departure of Krysta Cameron right before their appearance on Warped Tour 2012. While LaPlante did a more than respectable job on Late for Nothing, it was clear when listening to the record that she was still trying to develop a rapport with the band. Based on her excellent work here, it's safe to say that adjustment period is over. Hail Mary is the first record where LaPlante had the chance to fully immerse herself in the writing process and it shows in the confidence and quality of her performance. Her high and low screams are nothing short of commanding and she does an excellent job of matching the frantic nature of the music with her equally manic delivery. Her clean vocals, which was her Achilles' heel on Late for Nothing, are also greatly improved. While her clean vocals are used much more sparingly here(only five of the 14 songs on this record feature clean vocals,) she delivers chillingly beautiful vocals every time she's called upon to sing. Any doubt that LaPointe wasn't a good fit for the band or an apt replacement for Cameron should be silenced after hearing her powerhouse performance on Hail Mary.
Hail Mary is a textbook example of a band using a sound overhaul to find themselves as a group. They showed flashes of real potential and garnered some serious laughs from time to time with their over-the-top goofy sound in the past, but iwrestledabearonce has never sounded as fluid or precise as they do on Hail Mary. Dropping their absurdest sense of humor and embracing their dark, serious side is without question the band has ever made in their eight-year history and if they keep on this track, Hail Mary should be only the first of many standout releases for iwrestledabearonce.