Do you like headbanging? You’d better.
Welland, Ontario’s American Hell (not even touching the irony on that one) brings the brimstone on The Great Dying. They start you off with the title track, which is an instrumental tune that builds up until it transforms into “Asebia:” a whiplash victim’s worst nightmare. The infectious drones of the guitars and the steady pulse of drums gets you just where it wants you. Now, while I am a fan of big gay choruses vocal-wise, American Hell leaves the prettiness in the guitar work. The competence of the musicians is matched only by their dynamic. They blend fast, slow, and full stops with expert precision.
Circling back to the vocals, no clean sounding melodies to be heard here. Nope. Your options are: scream-y, growl-y, and yell-y. From a low metalcore scream to a more hardcore yell (think Comeback Kid), American Hell has a variety of ranges as far as the screams go. The brutality is there, but as usual, it is quite difficult to comprehend the lyrics. The vocals do what they’re supposed to, without conveying anything more than cadences. The yelling less so, but besides a murder here and there, it’s pretty much its own language. “Jerusalem Syndrome” is a welcome exception to this rule. I had the pleasure of understanding this one, and it is destructive. The tracks are hit-and-miss in terms of decipherability (which is a word, so fuck you to the part of my brain that doubted me as I typed it out).
Recorded in Alexisonfire’s hometown of St. Catherines, Ontario, I can’t help but draw comparisons (and distinctions) from one of American Hell’s musical ancestors. While not strictly a metalcore band, Alexisonfire established a heavy sound in music and vocals. Looking away from the vocals, the guitar leads sometimes remind me of AOF’s self-titled effort. The difference? You’ll never hear the bombardment of twin kicks, which The Great Dying has in spades.
The drums do not stick to a formula. They can go slow and steady, like in “Down And Out” (In Room 10), which by the way has a pretty awesome outro/intro into “The All Destroyer,” and they can get stupidly fast, which is just expected in metalcore these days.
This paragraph is called ‘Breakdowns’ and it’s about breakdowns. Ho-lee-fuck does The Great Dying have some breakdowns. If you’re not the guy at the show who’s waiting for the breakdown, what are you waiting for? Your parents to kick you out of the house when they realise you’re not in bed or doing your homework? Your girl/boyfriend to give you a handy in the crowd? What is it? You may have noticed these examples only apply to young boys and girls. Breakdowns are for men. Breakdowns.
What’s that I hear? As if out of nowhere (read: “My Time with the Monster”)… clean vocals. Quiet and brief, they still add some great texture to an otherwise flat vocal melody. As screaming is using a melodic instrument as a percussive instrument, the cleans add something that is otherwise missing. While I am not a screaming fanboy, I can sure as hell appreciate a band/screamer that does it well – I’m looking at you, Liam Cormier of Cancer Bats. American Hell’s vocals are heavy as fuck and sound just plain evil. There are moments where I don’t see eye-to-eye with the vocalist, but on the whole, the job is done well. The gang vocals on “Epic” are… ok. I’m only half-kidding, as a “hey hey” has been done to death, but death can be a good thing, can’t it? It still gives the song a nice kick as gang vocals won’t to do, but the later gangs are truly… what’s the word… oh yeah: legendary.
“Zero” has a very post-punk punch to it. The drums on this one don’t give up. It gets real brutal part way through and I must refer you again to breakdowns. Then the song snaps back and forth from the quick post-punk to the sludgy Bee-Dees.
“Evening Light” starts off with (is, in its entirety) a mighty Bee-Dee with the quintessential voice over of some uptight, judgy know-it-all who says scary religious things. We get it, religion is bad. Joking aside, the last track on this album is just dripping with heavy. Closing the album like the clasping of a great tome. I enjoyed this album thoroughly, if not for the lovely vocals, then for the pure musicianship and passion that runs through these lads.
Written by Jacques Asselin