Review Summary: Sincerity and Safety
There are some emotions that are ubiquitous in everyone’s experience. Doubt of oneself, despair when confronted with the purpose of existence, and the crippling sadness or boiling rage that often follows the lowest points in our lives. Australian Nu-Metalcore band Alpha Wolf have decided to make an entire album solely on those feelings, expressed in the most literal and often unimpressive way possible.
While I don’t doubt that many of the feelings shared and experiences recounted by ex-vocalist Aidan Holmes are sincere, much of it fails to have any significant impact due to the instrumentation that surrounds it. Alpha Wolf’s songwriting abilities are marginally better than most nu-metalcore bands in that they can occasionally use more than the bottom two strings on their seven string guitars but still fail to distinguish themselves in relying far too much on pinch-harmonics and other forms of harsh, angular guitar dissonance before diving straight into a slow, open-string chug breakdown. Tracks like “Ward Of The State” and “Failvre” show this in full, basically having mid-paced grooves full of screeching guitar noise in between the breakdowns. There are no changes in tempo beyond mid-pace and the drumming remains safely in the pocket, predictably using cymbals in heavier moments. Aidan’s vocals show a similar lack of variance, mostly confined to yelling or a certain kind of phlegmy fry scream.
Contrary to what one would expect, the album does have softer songs, but they are no less uninteresting. Songs like “Mono” and “My Untold Memoir” are obviously intended to be more personal and introspective to contrast the pure rage and contempt for externalities omnipresent in other songs. The instrumental work is often minimal and dissonant here, being confined to a spacey guitar lead over a simple beat as Aidan’s distorted voice yells or talks above it. Nothing here is bad, but simply the most predictable and safely-executed counterpart to songs full of breakdowns and seven-string chugs. There is also a lot to be said about the lyricism here, which at times is quite poetic, such as the lines on “My Untold Memoir” dealing with the loss of one’s mother:
“I stared at your name engraved in the casket
This can't be real, this sadness i must mask it
They lowered you down, accompanied by a song
And every time i hear those chords it hurts for so long”
However, it can also just fall into vague metaphors that feel like they were written in the absence of more nuanced things to say, such as on “Mono”
“Can you say my name, for the wounds of yesterday?
Or should I say goodbye to the ocean in your eyes?”
Even at its worst, the lyricism on this album is never terrible or forced. It all comes across as a very genuine if often straightforward confession of grief, and is definitely one of the better parts of the album. But it is consistently let down by the music arranged for it. With this being made clear, it is no surprise that the high points on the album are the tracks “Golden Fate: Water Break” and “Golden Fate: Gut Ache”, which are connected in telling the story of the band mourning the loss of a friend to suicide and how they feel guilty because they think they didn’t do enough to help. On the former, a great riff is used to lead into a buildup to one of the best drops on the album. The guitar and drum work feels as if it rises and falls with the emotions expressed through the lyrics, from hate towards the world to utter despair. On the latter track, a melodic synth lead is used as Holmes gives a great clean chorus to accompany it. On these two tracks, Alpha Wolf shows some understanding of dynamics and the connection of songs to an overall concept.
“Mono” is an album that never truly makes you want to hit pause, but rarely gives you a reason to expect something different. It chooses familiar themes and expected ways to express them. It will easily do for emotional catharsis and the heavier tracks are probably great in a live environment. But the sound of this band is too typical to truly be marked as exceptional in a scene oversaturated by similar bands.