Review Summary: Better get those notepads ready: this is not a lesson to skip out on.
As far as appearances come, the slightly-dusty copy of To You the First Star
that rests on a crowded CD shelf is thoroughly unadorned. The art does not explode in a flash of color, the band’s logo is presented in simple, unobtrusive font; a crack runs down the middle of the case, probably from having been dropped once or twice; and the top portion of the plastic always comes off at the hinges upon trying to access the disc, descending lazily towards the floor. When I scoured the internet to finally snag myself an available version of Eden Maine’s spectacular debut, this all came as surprising—the fact that this possession, so treasured in my eyes, looked like it could have been literally anything else in comparison. Even more shocking was the fact that the interior of the package, that chaotic beast of a record, was presented as being worth nothing more than $0.99. Okay, technically
$3.99 when shipping costs were factored in, but still, that listing sat: one swift transaction amounting to less than a dollar amount, and one of the greatest metalcore albums ever conceived would soon land in my mailbox. Unceremoniously, without fanfare, and basic. I was nearly compelled to traverse the land in search of the seller demanding that they take more of my money. The fact is, the sound that erupts from the volcanic nadirs of this sinister construct stands in history as an immensely powerful lesson in genre combinations, and valuing it at any numerical quantity less than that description should be considered a crime.
I suppose it’s important to understand hindsight at this point, because metalcore is one of those musical categories that exploded in its youth and became a much narrower field over time, the dominant players becoming household names for interested fans. Mentioning Converge and Dillinger seems like a reviewing trope for the genre nowadays, yet it’s critical to outline the idea that only a minute collection of metalcore groups survived the early 2000s, and still fewer managed to achieve acclaim or even cult status. Eden Maine failing to obtain a foothold of relevance after being ‘deceased’ for over a decade is ultimately a predictable consequence of oversaturation and underexposure. If any corpse is to be raised from the proverbial graveyard, however, I’d like to make the case for this particular set from Hertfordshire. Originality (or that lovable ‘experimental’ tag) tends to be an elusive descriptor these days due to its supposed demise and difficulty of creation, which should make this statement carry more meaning than usual: the boys in Eden Maine were on to something
. Journey through a time machine to the late 90s, creep into the approaching century, and it’s evident that not many acts were actively mixing metalcore and post-metal. Enthusiasts will be quick to note Knut’s Connector
—they very well should—and credit must be given to California’s Will Haven and the Ohio communal Harlots for their unique, hazy fusion. What is left, therefore, is a microcosm of a microcosm of a microcosm
of a scene where only a handful of individuals are paving the way to something special.
There’s no doubt that To You the First Star
deserves a position among those aforementioned entries, and I’ll wager that it bears enough significance to be terraformed as part of metalcore’s figurative bedrock. An important distinction to establish is that Eden Maine are not a primarily metalcore band; if you break down the duration of the album into genre-segmented portions, it’s apparent that there is a heightened emphasis on external post-metal influences to the degree that they no longer exist as external—these elements are the foundation of the disc itself. Out of the 12-track selection, only four are clearly metalcore rockers, while the rest are post-metal interludes or fully fleshed-out expeditions through the genre. Now, favoring one musical route over the other is not intrinsically good or bad, but it does demonstrate a division in performance styles, specifically when regarding how a record inevitably feels to the listener. Post-metal and post-rock occupy a similar plane wherein the boundaries of a parent classification are pushed beyond their conventional limits, a transition that has generally resulted in an increase of attention to atmospheric detailing. There’s a lot of subjectivity to this criterion, but I believe it’s safe to say that a band’s intent on tone can be objectively viewed whether or not it was successfully experienced by the audience. These U.K. gentlemen stray off from the herd in that they favor different categories disproportionally to their focus on -core aspects—a post-metal band caught wearing a different pair of shoes.
Delving into TYTFS
exposes a musical output that revels in a darkened landscape punctuated by an ominous atmosphere. The texture of the guitars is decidedly rough and hazy; true to the roots of metalcore, there won’t be much cleanliness to uncover here. Every note struck carries with it a decidedly foreboding tone, the reverberating post-metal chords striking purposefully in a threatening manner while metalcore riffs wail like sirens, piercing through the surface only to promptly submerge for another assault. Coupled with a vocal addition that rings out as a Satanic preacher proselytizing to his flock, the tunes laid before the listener begin to adopt a haunting, chaotic ambiance held tightly underneath a storm cloud-laden production. Eden Maine portray this through structuring their post-metal forays around a central guitar line and gradually branching off of it. These parts immediately score for their incredibly memorable, unexpectedly catchy composition, but the crescendo is the solidifying feature. Early example “The Hunter and the Hunted” begins quietly, the riff gaining volume as the remainder of the band slowly join in, bringing the track to a melodious burst. Light cymbal-tapping gives way to a pounding display supported by a thunderous rhythm guitar and crushing bass. Fast-forward a bit and “Murder Was Her Name”—buttressed by the brief introduction “Voices”—repeats the motions explored earlier, but where melody once dwelled, a low-tuned strike now resides while screams govern the forefront.
The way that these tracks are organized seem to speak to the album as a whole being a gigantic post-metal opus of sorts. Each metalcore-styled outing is preceded by an instrumental primer or one of the more developed tunes, like a series of pairs that fit together harmoniously. In a separation from tradition, Eden Maine transform their evocative brand of -core music into an elongated climax, the previous creation functioning as an opening act to set the stage. I’d consider the U.K. set’s methodology as adopting the angry, murky disposition of Acme, maintaining a degree of virtuosity analogous to Converge and other extreme acts of the time period. The record announces itself to the audience by executing this one-two-punch maneuver in a truly violent, extraordinary fashion: “Solstitium” briefly floats in, then is almost immediately pushed out of the way by an outburst of technical guitars and furious drumming—in an effort titled “Hail Satan,” no less. Directly afterwards is a second coupling of musical formations; “I Am What You Are” slams down a gauntlet of heaviness, employing a slow tempo to bend one’s will to convulsively headbang, throwing in a dissonant breakdown for good measure. “More Fireflies for the Candlelight” stems off of this, and it’s a perfect demonstration of Eden Maine firing on all cylinders when taking every single element into account. Both guitars bob and weave through speedy riffs, showing their melodic tones sparingly to guide the song’s progression. The vocal performance—one of the most underrated in the genre—seems to delight in the diabolical bedlam, mid-range shouts intermixing with sinister screams, a raw edge hanging off of every delivery. An unlikely hero emerges in the form of the bass, who manages to be heard loud and clear in the production throughout the album. Here, a vital groove lays down the path, an impressively diverse percussion kit demonstration being the finishing touch. It’s all at a breakneck pace, made all the more impactful due to the post-metal layering that was used to get there.
is to go down in the books for any specific triumph, should such a limitation be in place, the honor must be prescribed to two absolute monsters that are among the greatest metalcore pieces ever written: “The Acidic Taste of Betrayal” certainly deserves acclaim for encompassing the entire purpose of the disc into its relatively short but destructive 4-minute existence. The riffs here are blackened all to hell, the bass sounding louder than a freight train collision as the drumming races ahead akin to a demon possessed. Those trademark devilish harsh chords are scaled back slightly as though calling from beneath the Earth itself, shaking the soul of the listener as the vocalist screams about a gruesome suicide with all the vitriol one could possibly own. The refrain itself is a massive breakdown underlined by a howling guitar melody—leave it to the professionals to know how to design an effective stoppage. Only “Disinformasiya” is capable of surpassing the ultimate darkness, and it’s almost because of the sheer fact that it happens and it isn’t pulled off poorly. Not many metalcore acts have ventured into the territory of 10-plus-minute epics, but as I’ve done my best to persuade, Eden Maine are not normal. The titanic track reaches a 13-minute interval that does its best to earn every second. It’s critical to take this all in context of the post-metal practice that was established; “Disinformasiya” is another coupled number, its partner being represented by “The Atheist Light”—an all-instrumental jam that makes prominent use of a cello to set the mood. When the time comes, the door is opened to allow the concluding song to begin working its magic. The first four minutes of “Disinformasiya” embody Eden Maine’s metalcore playing at its peak performance once again, a frantic nature taking hold of each contributing member. Discordant riffs swirl about, clean vocals extend from a faraway abyss, and the rhythm section presses down on the listener’s eardrums like a heavy burden of stones. The finale is the true shining gem as the cello returns, its beauty turned melancholic by the unnerving instruments surrounding it, each note proceeding at a funeral pace, marching to a grisly end.
I’m well aware that any sort of project that I thoroughly, unashamedly adore can elicit a startling degree of hyperbolic rambling from me, and it’s in part due to this concept of a losing battle: Eden Maine are dying or basically completely dead to the -core world at large, and it becomes increasingly more difficult to spread the word. Music brings out a passion that not many other mediums can, something that is especially magnified when dealing with a record that has received so little praise when so much more could be said. There hasn’t been any polling of current bands in the genre (if there was, probably none of the participating acts would proudly name drop To You the First Star
as an encouragement), but upon listening to this release, it becomes impossible not
to hear it in any post-metal-metalcore mishmash of the modern era. The myth of the field becoming barren, lacking any kind of novel stimulation, has been systematically dismantled as of late, but there persists an overwhelming assortment of upstarts parading about a tired mainstream tactic that turned to rot long ago. It would be unfair to claim Eden Maine have absolutely zero flaws; there have been groups both before and after their presence that eclipsed their catalog. What cannot be denied is that To You the First Star
stood at the head of an empty classroom and left an astonishing message no one got a chance to hear. Unless the survival of stereotypes is desired, I find it imperative that some -core bands out there start consulting their notes—no harm in trying at least, since it’s only worth a few cents.