The other day I had recalled something that a friend of mine had said to me a few years back. It was one of those things that in the moment made perfect sense, yet at the same time seemed a touch extreme, even quite possibly for the situation at hand. You know, one of those things that makes you laugh and pumps you up all at once, all the while there is a lingering sense of possible danger. Now to help set the scene a little more clearly, we were up at my cottage, and it was a killer sunshine-soaked day, and we may or may not have cracked the two-four (what us cuh-ray-zay Canucks call a 24 case of beer…go figure…) a bit earlier than expected. If only to ensure we stayed cool in the higher temps and burning rays. We had been down at the lake and were in dire need of a refill, so we moseyed on up the hill and into the kitchen. Upon entering, this rockin’ rager came over the Bluetooth boombox and it sent my buddy into a whirlwind of headbangs and throwin’ up the devil horns. I turned to him, asking him if he dug the current tunage, and in response he said to me, ‘Man, I just love this shit so much! It feels like my adrenaline’s pumping at a million miles an hour and my veins are about to burst! I just feel so damn good I could rip this roof clean off! I feel so damn good I could rip my head off!’. So, now you see what I was referring to. Hilarious in its own right. An overall notion that in this present moment could be quite intoxicating (aside from the brews). Yet perhaps just a little alarming at the same time. I think maybe he was taking the title of the song a little too literally…”Greatness or Death”. He asked me who it was, as he had never heard them before, to which I simply replied, ‘They’re called Beartooth bud, and they’re bananas.’. As much of a standout quote as that clearly was in any general sense of day-to-day life (and especially outside of an outrageous party-themed flick), I had actually forgotten about it until recently. But, when I received the band’s upcoming album, Below, it all at once came back to me, and it made more sense that ever (even without the alcoholic boosting). Much like the album cover which features a fearsome, ghostly rider, whom one could only assume is Death himself riding a chopper with serpents for handlebars straight outta the deepest depths of Hell, this album is fierce and ferocious.
Genre: Metalcore | Hardcore Punk | Hard Rock
Label: Red Bull Records
FLOW / LONGEVITY / ORIGINALITY
When it comes to a Beartooth album, it’s kind of hard to fuck up the overall flow in any sense really. The band has a pretty standard formula they seem to stick to with their music and for them it works quite nicely. As per usual the band come out of the gate, swingin’ for the fences with a track that literally anyone would call ‘bangin’. The title track of the album, starting with some heavy static and squealing feedback, a heart pumping thud of the kick drum and vocalist Caleb Shomo’s blood curdling scream, ‘I feel the rage, something starting to grow! Six hundred sixty-six feet in my Hell below!’, you know it’s time to rage something ballistic. The songs that follow are all of a similar nature, with even what one might consider to be some of the ‘softer’ tracks still assimilating the same general balls to the wall aggression. In this writers humble opinion though, I would have only made a possible few switch ups; Throwing “Hell of It” at the front of the line could have worked merely for the fact of the opening statement, ‘Welcome back, you couldn’t resist..’, even though I know the subject matter of the song as a whole isn’t entirely representative of kickin’ off the party so to speak…it still kind of is, isn’t it? I mean, it is a Beartooth track! And I may have traded the places of “The Answer” with say, something like “Dominate” or “Devastation”. Seeing as the final track, “The Last Riff” is, as the title suggests, an instrumental and a slow burn one at that, it may have been beneficial to have one of the faster paced rockers as a lead-in to the end of the album.
Beartooth has almost always been one of those bands for me that gets most of their spins at a certain moment and time. Speeding up the highway to a reveled destination of debauchery, a party where not every patron salivates only for the top 40 types of tunes, or when feeling a touch lethargic and am in critical need of a music induced pick-me-up. That was until I first heard Below. This album is without a doubt their best yet for a plethora of reasons. Yea, it’s got those staple heavy hitters that any Beartooth release has had before, and also its fair share of positive under the surface words, anthem of triumph style tunes but they all just seemed so much more meaningful and impactful this time around. “I Won’t Give It Up” is a fantastic example. It is one of those classic Beartooth ‘I’m gonna be me and no one else’ type of diddies, but instead of that example line being the only lyrics stating anything of possible importance, the band dug deep and found the perfect words to state why they will not sacrifice anything for anyone in the conquest of being the best they can be. This gave the song so much more depth and value, than just the standard ‘fuck you, I’ll live my own life’ sort of anthem. Almost every single track has found a way to make an intense lasting impression, making this THE Beartooth album that will just have a general state of perpetual existence on a multitude of playlists to come.
OOF! Now, I know I may catch some heat for this, but when it comes to Beartooth, I don’t find them to be the kings of originality. I mean sure, they do kinda have their own brand of metalcore/hardcore punk (f you will), but it’s not like there isn’t similar bands out there, but that’s not even my biggest issue. It seems like it’s hard to set Beartooth apart from Beartooth. Almost like if you’ve heard one album, you’ve heard ‘em all. That’s possibly a bit harsh and not quite precise, but I do find that the band follow a pretty standard formula that carries from album to album. All of the heavy songs have the same super fast drumming, and all of the more anthemic tracks follow a similar pattern of slow verses and slightly quickened choruses (See, “Afterall” and “The Answer”). I gotta hand it to them that it works, especially considering what they’re going for. And it seems with Below they have begun to break the mold a bit and try out some new tricks. I assure you; I’m not trying to say that what they do isn’t great in its own right. The band clearly has a firm grasp of what’s working for them and a gigantic part of their fans. But aside from the few surprises I found on this album, I’m still eagerly anticipating something that almost doesn’t sound ‘so Beartooth’ yet keeps true to their roots.
VOCALS / INSTRUMENTATION
Caleb Shomo is a fucking phenomenal vocalist. The dude has a voice that just works on so many levels. Back in the early days of Attack Attack!, he showed us a low he could go with near gutterals on tracks like “Smokahontas”. Due to a smart move of watching the toll he took on the state of his vocal cords, it was on This Means War he switched up his styles a bit and begun to lean more onto the higher end of his screams with tracks like “The Wretched” and yet he lost none of his gravitas or potency. This would be the screaming style we’d hear going forward with Beartooth, and it’s a style that the band prospers with all the more. In the opening seconds of “Devastation” where he simply yells out ‘YEAH!’, you know it’s time to jump the fuck out your seat and start…ripping roofs clean off. On the more rock-driven, yet still window shaking heavy track, “Phantom Pain” his signature screams just emphasize the hype and drive you to feel every single word belted out. But it’s this one particular moment on” Below” that really got my ears a-tinglin’. The previously stated opening line, which is repeated after the first chorus. Caleb goes even just a little bit higher. I felt this one in my spine folks, in the best way possible. He even gives us a little taste of the past with a lower end growl at the beginning of “No Return”! On tracks like “Skin” and “The Answer” his cleans truly shine. He has a way of playing off the melodies of the instruments that help to bring the emotion of his voice to an ultimately high level so that it sounds as if he is letting his words out in the most absolute cathartic of ways.
Ok…not quite sure how to put this. I don’t mean to throw any shade and I definitely do not mean to come across as salty, but me thinks that my concern with their originality actually stems from the instrumentation. I mean really, that’s what sounds so similar on all of their albums. AGAIN, that is NOT to say that I don’t dig the ever-living hell out of them as a whole. It’s just where my ears pick up the common qualities of each album. Yet once again the band had a few new tricks up their sleeves, albeit subtle ones. The guitars on the opening moments of “Dominate” don’t just have that standard chug that so many songs previously have had, and there are even momets on the track where there’s blast beat drumming! I gotta tell ya, this was absolutely bonkers and unexpected! It’ on “The Last Riff” though where the band truly pulled off something new and different for Beartooth. To be clear there isn’t much actual ‘riffing’ on the song, but this is still entirely new ground for the band. There are multiple moments that one could even call ambient or at the very least atmospheric. The heavier moments actualy feel as if they were attempting to convey a dark and ominous message that ‘this is the end’ without using any actual words. I’m not typically one for purely instrumental tracks but coming from Beartooth this is beyond surprising and quite a breath of fresh air. Now my rating of the instrumentals at the end may seem quite hypocritical after you’ve read this paragraph, but as I’ve been trying to make clear; it’s not that I don’t thin the band has an extreme level of talent, because they assuredly and clearly do. It’s merely that I find too many similarities on too many songs (PERSONALLY). But that also doesn’t mean I don’t feel like ripping off some heads when I’m jamming these tunes (just maybe not my own)!
COMPOSITION / PRODUCTION
Below definitely feels like the most planned out and thought-out album yet from these boys. Caleb has absolutely ramped up on his already great lyricism skills, as well as expanded on his already astounding vocals. The band definitely has stepped out of their comfort zone more than a few times and they’ve pulled it off with a bangin’ panache. While this album does follow similar patterns of the best, it still undoubtedly feels like their most mature and serious to date and while I’ve been listening to it, I just wondered if this had been their most cohesive writing as a group yet. Because if so, it shows big time and they’ve pulled off their greatest release yet in spades.
The production value of this album is beyond top titties. It adds to the feel of each and every track, whether that be a grittier vibe or something a bit more straight forward and clean. There are times that the vibe of this band really reminds me of some classic rock bands that just had that super clean and crisp production to help amplify the feel of the overall record, and luckily Below exemplifies this in a stellar fashion.
Beartooth really are a band that writes some of the most anthemic and killer adrenaline pumping music in the core scene bar none. Whether it’s a song about a backstabbing ‘friend’ or about the fact that there aint no way you’re gonna bring them down, they have a knack for getting almost anyone who hears their songs in the mood to mosh. Sure, I may find it hard at times to completely separate all of their work, but if there’s an album that’s helped me begun to do so, it is without a doubt Below. This album is fun yet packs a strong emotional punch that wasn’t quite as apparent on previous releases. I think this is only the beginning for a new chapter of Beartooth and I am so goddamn along for the ride! And just as a final side note…they still have one of THE most badass band names ever!