Review Summary: The Acacia Strain slip into a coma and upon waking up promptly reissue Coma Witch, minus a certain thirty minute closing track.
For a band long associated with the often reviled deathcore movement, The Acacia Strain somehow managed to skirt the struggles that their brethren faced. Where deathcore bands are criticized for monotonous songwriting and an overreliance on breakdowns, The Acacia Strain rarely seems to get called out for embodying these exact qualities. As someone that took quite a while to come around to their brand of extremity, it has been an unsettling experience to see people praise The Acacia Strain as a “tolerable” deathcore act, while dismissing others with a more traditional approach. Considering that one common complaint, perhaps a dying one, hopefully, but one that existed nonetheless, was that deathcore isn’t “real death metal”, there’s a strange irony in seeing avid OSDM listeners have no issue cranking The Acacia Strain when they happen to actually have comparatively few characteristics of death metal. Rather, The Acacia Strain anchor their sound on a pissed off, nihilistic aesthetic and pounding, snail paced chug-a-lugs, breakdowns and two note rhythms in overwhelming abundance. It seems to me that The Acacia Strain is the purest embodiment of everything deathcore naysayers claimed was the problem with the genre, yet are praised for it. A confounding turn of fate to say the least.
To be clear, I’m not complaining. It took me a long time to find the value in The Acacia Strain’s music, but I do believe it’s there. Monotony and breakdown worship aside, the band has mastered the art of sludgy, hate-fueled fury and none of the copycats that have appeared over the years have come close to matching them. In some ways they thrive on a “dumb fun” approach, unfortunately like Emmure is to some, but over time they’ve shown some artistic ability. 2012’s Death Is the Only Mortal
introduced some of Meshuggah’s mechanical syncopation to the mix, and 2014’s Coma Witch
, despite retreading familiar territory, closed out on the thirty minute expansive, melodic and doomy epic “Observer”. Every record since Continent
has shrunk the average tempo until it became the norm to roll at a sloth like speed. If the Acacia Strain know how to write a fast song then we haven’t seen it in quite a long time. It’s not necessarily a bad thing though, at this point it’s become a part of their identity. And though The Acacia Strain have never been known as particularly intelligent artists, there has been a clear artistic growth, at least since the 2010’s hit. Unfortunately Gravebloom
halts that growth dead in its tracks.
is a fun album. Honest. But it’s also a rehash, plain and simple. Nothing done across its eleven tracks hasn’t been done on previous Acacia Strain records, and the record it most closely resembles, Coma Witch
, has the aforementioned luxury of “Observer” to set it apart from the rest of their discography. Vincent Bennet’s vocals are full of menace and rage as per usual, and the riffs are undeniably heavy, but what’s it all for? Maybe it’s absurd to ask an existential question like that of an Acacia Strain record of all things, but goddamit I need something more than just another eleven slow as ***, pissed the hell off songs. Maybe I’m growing up and moving on, or maybe I’m looking for something I have no right looking for from a group of people who have never promised anything of the sort, but I’m discontent with this record anyway. Sonically it sounds good, the instruments are loud and crush precisely like they need to. For the most part I can hear everything in the mix, though the bass bleeds into the guitars until they become one entity but that’s nothing new. I can get down to the stomping outro to “Plague Doctor” and I can give them props for trying to make another epic closing track in “Cold Gloom”, but it’s all so very uninspiring. So what is Gravebloom
but just another Acacia Strain record, another pile of riffs and breakdowns and guttural roars and lyrics about how awful everything and everyone is? It’s just that, nothing more. For many, that will be just fine. For me, I can’t seem to stop asking questions that I’m pretty sure no one has an answer for.