Review Summary: From the cutting room floor
Honestly, colour me blood-red impressed that the deathcore resurgence of yesteryear was not only able to produce some seriously good music, but actually thrive on the modern metal scene for longer than I had any right to expect. As a listener who was weaned onto heavier metal genres through the MySpace era of deathcore, it's especially gratifying to see these trends re-emerging in ways that don't feel quite so image-consciously gaudy or try-hard as they once did. I don’t want to harp on about this as if I’m citing some non-existent deathcore credentials, but something that gave me a giddy feeling of nostalgia whilst listening to Director’s Cuts was its patchwork of influences. The genre has never been the most respected on the metal spectrum but it has clearly managed to retain its listener base in the interim, and releases such as this pleasant surprise are sure to enthral genre stans, and possibly even coax enthusiasts of adjacent genres into dipping their toes into deathcore's offal-filled waters. Director's Cuts takes cues from an assortment of deathcore acts from the popular age, but also borrows trends from more modern stylistics whilst all the while managing to show a distinctive flair that is unmistakeably the band's own. A battering ram of unbridled hostility, atmospheric production, and socially conscious lyricism, the record is exciting, punishing, and chock-full of face-scrunching grooves and earth-shattering breakdowns.
The follow up to Global Warning, Director’s Cuts immediately sets itself apart from its predecessor with more dynamic songwriting and a greater emphasis on grooves and catchiness. There are more overt instances of influence from genres such as beatdown, traditional death metal and even flirtations with nu-metal, in addition to a wealth of more modern genre hallmarks. Symphonic elements found on such excursions as 'Protest & Sever' are tasteful and serve the brutal subject matter appropriately, as well as modifying the pace in preparation for the expected escalation into breakdown. These cataclysmic musical shunts are frequent but never overdone, ranging from ferocious and explosive to downtempo and broody in the style of The Acacia Strain. There are also numerous instances of groovy passages throughout, notably on tracks such as 'Manhunt' and 'Axe of Kindness', that meld chunky, distorted riffs with intermittent motifs such as pinch harmonics, feedback whines and trilling patterns. The outro segment on 'Red Dot Sight', and the intro and staggered beatdown of following track 'Full Sequence' exemplify these dynamics perfectly and with ruthless finesse. It has that glitched effect and the towering sound of bands like Humanity’s Last Breath, but without lapsing into the pretence that often goes hand-in-hand with this kind of gimmickry. 'Cut Off The Head' is a classic chug-a-lug deathcore machine in the most traditional sense; a simple groove and a singalong main vocal hook, with lyrics that put me in mind of Matthew Stokoe's transgressive bovine-centric exploration of social alienation, 'Cows'. Closer 'Die, Rise' deserves a special mention also; a multi-part epic with a deeply foreboding aura throughout its 8-minute runtime and a soaring solo. It's nasty, crushing, and a satisfying payoff for the album overall.
Director’s Cuts has a pulpy, exploitation-horror feel, and the provocative album art along with the utilisation of spoken-word interludes on ‘B.D.T.S.’ and ‘Found Footage’ accentuate this. The subject matter, a serious and uncompromising statement primarily concerning animal cruelty, offsets the typically eye-rolling impression of the horrific theming and splatter-infused lyricism by marrying it with a serious, deep topicality that almost everyone can relate to. Whilst it does explore other social themes such as police brutality, activism, ecology and systemic racism, it does this by equivocating them with the inhumanity of homo sapiens toward the animal kingdom, shooting the release through with a bitter, well-realized throughline that may not be particularly trailblazing, but certainly makes its points in fitting levels of bloodshed and torment. The sinister, troubling narrative segues on the release retain the heavy thematic preoccupations and provide transitions between the vicious musical movements, and the concerns of the lyrical content feel in no way unnecessary. In fact, the urgency and relevancy of the inherent vitriol affords additional bile to the musical landscape, making every pre-breakdown catcall and aggressive shove into machine-gun musicality feel earned and warranted. Vocally, Director's Cuts is superb, showcasing a genuinely impressive range of styles that encompasses rasping highs, barbaric lows and teeth-grindingly gravelly gutturals. The highs are especially reminiscent of Joey Nelson (Beneath The Sky) and the lows invoke the cement-mixer chunder of Jason Evans (Ingested) and the boiling-kettle squeals of Steve Marois (Despised Icon). The variety and power in the performance propels the anger and anguish exhibited in the subject matter completely and transmits appropriate levels of extremity across the board, and even though the vocal styles individually are well-established, frontman Dane Evans’ ability is quite staggering in how unusually adept at all of them he is, often in blistering succession.
With a more committed sense of rage this time around, along with more distinct production values and an ear more attuned for memorability, Australian outfit To The Grave have managed to convincingly develop their sound in a way that is both comfortable yet meaningful. The incorporation of atmospheric respite amidst the violent landscape of Director’s Cuts is well-judged and narratively sound without feeling cliché, and the cohesive nature of the project’s intensity overall is a pleasantly notable aspect considering the typically throwaway nature of music associated with the genre. Despite its serious focus though, it is still a genuinely fun listen, positively laden with pummelling energy and exciting musical sidesteps. That it is heavily influenced by many of its genre forebears is hard to deny, but To The Grave have expanded the sound to feel modern too, and the amalgamation of these hand-picked influences feels like a richly layered evolutionary tapestry rather than a grab-bag tribute act. The resulting sound is unmistakeably theirs overall; frantic and uncompromising, nasty and thunderous. Add into this the nuanced topical content and the exceptional vocal performance, and the outcome is a truly outstanding modern deathcore release, and perhaps one of the greatest within the genre.