Review Summary: Unsurprisingly wild. And yet, somewhat unsurprising.
Frontierer have quickly become the torchbearer for a new wave of mathcore, and for good reason. The writing is sharp both intellectually and viscerally. Relentless stuff. Cutting edge, even.
“Unloved”, the band’s sophomore full length, is indeed unsurprisingly wild but, if I may, it is also somewhat unsurprising. If you’ve already heard their debut EP “The Collapse” or their debut full length “Orange Mathematics”, you’ve pretty much gotten the bulk of the story. How could this be, you ask? This record is packed to the gills with sound and fury. Has nothing changed?
Alright, yes, this album does tighten up a number of motifs from previous outings. You’ve got more intelligent uses of electronic elements, such as the occasional well-placed jungle-inspired electronic drum track, and heaps of whirring high-end guitar sounds so eccentric that nobody can accuse the band of taking no risks whatsoever. Still, to my ear, Frontierer have somehow already managed to stagnate in more ways than one.
First, there is a stagnation of ambition: being as heavy as possible at all times, and being as absurdly technical as possible in doing so. I’m all about it, in spirit; more good mathcore is more good mathcore. And, at any rate, innovations in ambition do not always entail improvements in execution. In practice, though, there’s a problem. The problem is, indeed, their second source of stagnation: Frontierer’s music continues to leave no room for anything except its own suffocating force. For the sheer battery of sounds “Unloved” presents you with, the identity of any given track cannot be picked out by means of them. Not a single microorganism could survive inside these guitars. The air is too hot. The tones bleed into each other to such a degree that every nook and cranny drips crimson. My biggest hope heading into “Unloved” was that this issue would be addressed, seeing as it is a holdover from “Orange Mathematics”: I wanted to hear and see the precision, to peer behind the corners and into the light, beyond where the ubiquitous snare drum pummels and chip away at the skin, beyond where the low chords absorb threaten to destroy every subtlety. I wanted some variance in flavour, not necessarily in style. I know these guys aren’t just mashing chords into oblivion. They’re writers. Somehow, though, it manages to rush past you all the same.
Let me be clear. I do not think this diagnosis calls for an injection of ambient interludes and melodic guitarwork into an otherwise uncompromising metal sound. I’ve never demanded this from music’s heaviest bands and I’m sure as hell not going to start now. I’ll even admit that I might exaggerate the issues somewhat. Pay close attention and you can hear the intelligence well enough; look closely and you can see some bacteria thriving on the surface of the guitars after all. No one should really care if Frontierier’s canon is not an exercise in sonic minutiae. nor do I think that the band ought to emphasize songwriting in classic ‘compositional’ terms. My longstanding love for mathcore of all stripes forces me to concede these points.
So, yes, this band is awesome in some obvious senses. They’ve got all the exactitude, all the madness, and all the badassery that you ought to want. But, for all this, sustained commentary about their awesomeness is difficult to provide. The mesh of the record is too tightly pulled to transcend the paradigm set by Frontierer’s earlier work. When you’ve heard one song, you’ve heard most of them. At fourteen tracks, some veering past the five minute mark, despite subtle improvements. It’s all just a bit of a slog. A touch more tonal separation would do wonders for the listening experience. A lengthy record would feel shorter. Or, if not that, it would make it feel longer for the right reasons. One standout track, “Bombgnasher”, does some of the work in this regard; “Heartless 101” is also a pretty interesting exercise in anxious, glitch-driven anticipation.
I won’t belabor the points. I only criticize because what's praiseworthy needs no further comment.
No Frontierer review is complete, however, without reminding the reader that Chad Kapper is still a monster on the microphone. He’s not exactly a master of vocal variation either, and I am beginning to think that he is partly responsible for the monotony that stands to overwhelm "Unloved", but nobody can accuse him of lacking the passion, sound, and intensity. Few others could keep up, and even fewer others could sound so consistently brutal in doing so. If you want further evidence, do yourselves a favour and go listen to “A Thousand Miles of Rope” by his earlier project When Knives Go Skyward. It is, I contend, one of the most underrated (because unknown) metal records of the century.
Oh, and really, please do go and enjoy this record too. It’s scathing, it’s big, and it’s probably exactly what you’d expect from Orange Mathematics Vol. II.
You can stream “Unloved” here: