Review Summary: I Declare War give deathcore listeners an acceptable experience, but fall short of anything more.
I Declare War is an American deathcore band founded in 2005 out of Seattle, Washington. This album features vocalist Jonathan Huber, guitarists Evan Hughes and Chris Fugate, bass guitarist Brent Eaton, and drummer Ryan Cox. This lineup consists of only two of the founding members of the band. For better or for worse, this would not be the last time that the band would see major lineup changes with multiple members at a time coming and going. "Malevolence" is the band's third studio release and consists of 11 tracks for a total length of just over 38 minutes.
After 2007's "Amidst the Bloodshed," one might hope that I Declare War would be looking to grow as a group and improve in all areas of their music. Enter "Malevolence" in 2010, with improved production, a (mostly) new lineup, and a new theme. Vocalist Jonathan Huber delivers his lyrics with powerful, guttural growls that are much akin to those of Adam Warren (Oceano). Gone are past lyrics about "whooping tricks" and wishing death by AIDS upon "f*cking c*nts." Those ideas are replaced by politically-fueled rants, nihilism, and some anti-religious statements. Huber's lyrics include lines like "conformity is wiping us all away, losing your identity in the pursuit of happiness," and "one nation, one government, pure tyranny is at hand."
The sound on "Malevolence" is definitely improved over previous releases. Hughes and Fugate's down-tuned guitars deliver a heavy sound by way of chugging riffs, crushing breakdowns, and the occasional lead. The bass guitar is beefy and distorted and follows the theme of the bellowing sound produced through the album. The drum patterns on "Malevolence" consist of a few blast beats here and there, but mostly stick to their primary function of keeping the rolling tempo. The songs that make up "Malevolence" consist of many mid-tempo riffs utilizing chugging patterns or tremolo picking. There are a few moments when the speed picks up, giving some variety to the music and there are the slow, pummeling breakdowns that add those excessively "brutal" moments that many deathcore fans hunger for. If breakdowns are part of the listener's appetite, they will certainly find themselves sated after this experience.
The good: The album opens with the title track, "Malevolence," a beefy breakdown that is surely intended to kick off the dark and punishing mood of the album to come. Later in the track list, "Predetermined Path" adds some much needed variety and technicality with a frantic main riff. "Infinite Corruption" lays on some of the album's best grooves onto the listener, and features one of its best breakdowns at the end. "Alea Lacta Est," (the die is cast) is an instrumental that features some solid groove riffs throughout, and the album's only guitar solo.
The bad: Jonathan Huber's vocals a quite powerful and his lyrics on "Malevolence" are more mature than the last release, however, his vocal style makes the lyrics almost unintelligible. The production on this album really focuses on the low end to create a thick, bellowing sound, however, one may wonder why the bass guitar is basically inaudible. The song structures are better than previous releases, however, the music lacks a certain aspect of passion or intent. The reader may notice that all of these points are a positive elements succeeded by a "however" and a negative aspect. This observation is the essence of "Malevolence," improvement overshadowed by questionable choices. This may leave the listener confused and questioning: "If I Declare War wanted to improve upon their previous release, why didn't the musicians get the memo until halfway through？" "Why did they make 11 songs when they only put effort into 4 of them？" "Did they even actually put any effort into those 4？" "If these musicians don't put much passion into their music, should the listener put much passion into listening？" These are not good things for a fan to be left thinking.
The bottom line: As a whole, "Malevolence" is a step in a good direction for I Declare War. The band took their music to a higher level with structured songs, a bit more technicality, mature lyrics, and better production value. Unfortunately, the music throughout the album lacks emotion and the above average vocal performance isn't enough to bring the rest up to its level. Although they have definitely not drowned themselves, they fail reach a point where they are doing more than just treading water in the vast sea of deathcore bands. "Malevolence" will be a pleasing experience for fans of I Declare War and crowds of show-goers with an appetite for crushing breakdowns. However, the casual fan may find that their time is better spent elsewhere.