formed in 2011 from Grayslake, Illinois, and put out a couple of EP's: "Catharsis
" in the same year they were established, and "Start/End
" the following year. They were then signed to the New York
& Tie (All That Remains
, The Sword
), with their first full-length album "The Death Card" being released in 2013. Two
years later, the band would release their sophomore full-length known as "The Lovers/The Devil
I never got a chance to review Sworn In
's previous record "The Death Card," but just for a quick fill-in: It was very good. Though the over-the-top angst in the lyrics and vocals could be potentially grating (I personally didn't mind them, but I understand if some do), there are a number of positives to balance them out regardless. The dissonant and aggressive guitars, explosive and rather technical drumming, bold sound production, and dynamic and engaging song-writing made the album a great listen. So, as one can imagine, I was interested in listening to the band's follow-up release. Sadly, however, while "The Lovers/The Devil
" is still rather decent, it's quite the step down from the group's previous work.
In fact, just to get it out of the way, the biggest problem that the album suffers from is its awkward tonal shifting. What I mean by this are the transitions between the heavy and melodic parts of the music; they are way too abrupt. A couple major examples of this are "Lay with Me" and "Sugar
songs start off on the brutal side, with aggressive and dark instrumentation and atmosphere afoot. Later on, however, they suddenly burst into somewhat light-hearted pop-like melodies that sound completely different from the music before in terms of both mood and sound. This results in quite a jarring experience that throws the audience in a bit of a mood whiplash (Hence this review's title).
In all fairness, what the band is trying to accomplish with this formula is rather clear: They're attempting to write the dynamic between the lighter and darker moments in a way that gives the music this uncanny and dissonant atmosphere to it. On top of that, to the band's credit, it's much appreciated that it wrote in a lot of said dynamic to keep the music from growing stale and boring. The problem, however, is that the song structures and writing are so graceless and all over the place that they ends up merely confusing the listener instead of invoking a sense of genuine horror, tension, and uneasiness. To sum things up, the effort to create some strong dynamic certainly deserves praise, but the result itself leaves something to be desired.
Another issue with this album is with frontman Tyler Dennen's over-the-top vocals. For the sake of context, in "The Death Card," his screamed vocals were indeed chaotic and were completely drenched in angst, but they hit just the right mark to be very energetic and effective without going too overboard in their delivery. Here, while they're not totally obnoxious, the abundance of voice cracks and out-of-breath notes throughout "The Lovers/The Devil
" make it seem like he's trying too hard. As a result, the chances of them being grating on some listeners have unfortunately increased. Once
again, they aren't unbearable or anything of the sort, but they have seen a noticeable downgrade.
The clean singing sadly isn't much better, either, including the music accompanying it. This is because both elements sound incredibly generic; The melodic passages in songs such as "Sugar
Lips" and "I Don't Really Love You" sound like every other alternative rock or post-hardcore chorus out there without having anything memorable or interesting about them. The singing is passable, but totally unremarkable in terms of its delivery, and the instruments are rather bare-bones as well in contrast with the more brutal yet complex parts of the record. Bottom
line, the album seems to function the best in its heavier moments; otherwise, it sounds nothing short of bland.
On the bright side, however, the album still has enough positive qualities to it to hold it above water. The musicianship, first of all, is really well-done. Both
the screamed and clean vocals, though flawed, still aren't that bad, and the amount of energy put in them is admirable. The true highlights, however, are the guitars and drums. Just like in "The Death Card," they both demonstrate an impressive amount complexity and aggression. The guitars fluctuate between lots of low-tune chugs and distorted notes, and they're written in a way that doesn't make way for any needless showing off. Along with that, the drums pound in interesting patterns and with a lot of vigor to boot. All in all, the instrumentation holds up.
The sound production is also solid overall. His production on many albums fared very well before, and this one is no exception. Though it can be a bit too muddy at times, particularly in the record's more melodic moments (i.e. The chorus for "Lay with Me"), it's still carried out decently. The vocals and instruments sound clear, and the mixing does create some sort of trashy atmosphere that gives the music even more of an edge. In conclusion, the mixing, while not perfect, does work quite nicely.
Lastly, there are also a few notable highlights among the tracklist as well. "Sweetheart" is a hauntingly brutal opener, chiming in as a relatively quiet but very dark melody before exploding into a slow, heavy blend of distorted guitar riffs and tortured vocals, perfectly setting the mood for the rest of the album. "Olioxinfree" and "Sunshine" are also very good, dishing out some blistering grooves throughout to catch the audience's attention. Furthermore, going back to the tonal shifting from earlier, the songs "Pins and Needles" and "Pocket Full of Posies," while not great, actually manage to handle the dynamic between the melodic and heavy sides pretty smoothly, unlike some the others. Despite
the album having some glaring flaws, it isn't without its moments.
"The Lovers/The Devil
" is a fair effort, but isn't without its shortcomings. The tracks tend to be bizarrely structured and somewhat claustrophobic in how little some of the melodic and heavy parts tie together. Along with that, the screamed vocals can also be a bit too over the top, and the parts with clean singing tend to sound really bland and generic. With all that said, however, the album still has some upsides, ranging from some memorable moments here and there to the decent mixing to the impressive instrumentation. In short, the record wields tight musicianship and production values, but writing-wise, it's lacking. Fans of some of Sworn In
's older productions and those looking for some hardcore utterly soaked in pure anger and darkness will probably enjoy it. For everyone else, it's not a bad listen, but it could've been better.
Originally posted on: http://metaljerky.blogspot.com/