Amongst The Low & Empty

Century Media
rating icon 8.5 / 10

Track listing:

01. Amongst The Low & Empty
02. Tower Of Torsos
03. Pray For Death
04. Borrowed Time
05. Between Fire & Stone
06. Shackles Like Talons
07. Dreamkiller
08. The Witch Beckons (feat. Matthew K. Heafy)
09. Echelon
10. Faces Without Names
11. Malady

The days when deathcore was the runt of the litter are long gone. Right now, the scene is fizzing with creativity and passion, and SIGNS OF THE SWARM are among its brightest leading lights. They are an unpredictable bunch, too. After three albums of destructive, subgenre-defining brutality, the Pittsburgh crew dropped 2021's "Absolvere": a twisted tangle of vicious futurism and tech-savvy turbulence that was as original as it was ruthlessly heavy.

Laudably, "Amongst The Low & Empty" is anything but more of the same. Although the bedrock of their sound remains a polished but pitiless strain of cutting-edge deathcore, SIGNS OF THE SWARM's fifth album is much darker and more emotionally grueling than anything they have produced before. The artwork says it all: this is a monochrome onslaught, frostbitten and ferocious, with only intermittent flashes of the previous record's digital terrorism.

Perhaps unique among the current crop of deathcore heavyweights, SIGNS OF THE SWARM manage to project a sense of blackened biliousness without the need for orchestration or endless blizzards of blastbeats. From the opening title track onwards, this drips with vitriol and malevolent intent, but it's all in the riffs, the stripped-back and sinewy production and David Simonich's primal polemics. "Pray For Death" is a particularly devastating wall of noise, with sluggish beatdowns morphing into neck-snapping polyrhythms, and the pervasive stench of technology corroding. In contrast, "Borrowed Time" is a knotted web of lobotomized riffs and virtuoso precision that saunters casually into hazy gothic realms to mesmerizing effect.

Aside from being a blistering showcase for a retooled lineup (both bassist Michael Cassese and guitarist Carl Schulz make their debuts here),  "Amongst The Low & Empty" provides more evidence that SIGNS OF THE SWARM are up there with deathcore's greatest and best. It is never in doubt that they are more interested in writing songs than simply sewing riffs together, and that is never more obvious than on "The Witch Beckons": three minutes of face-flattening bedlam, featuring a cameo from TRIVIUM's enjoyably ubiquitous Matthew K. Heafy. Combining bursts of staccato violence with slithering, deathly sludge and barbed-wire hardcore vocal hooks, it's an eccentric but lethally effective testament to this band's singular approach.

Thanks to producer Josh Schroeder (KING 810 / LORNA SHORE),  that powerful identity has never sounded better or more thrillingly hostile. The closing "Malady" reinforces the point, with another tour-de-force of highly evolved bludgeon with a blackened heart. Even amongst the high and mighty of contemporary deathcore, SIGNS OF THE SWARM stand out as masters of the form, dead set on pushing the genre even further into Hell.

Author: Dom Lawson
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