Step Into The Light / Failure Will Follow

rating icon 8 / 9 / 10

Track listing:

Step Into The Light
01. Flourishing
02. Calf's Blood
03. Chain
04. Fresh Bones
05. Teeth Of The Cursed Dog
06. Open Wound
07. Sinkhole
08. Is This Really Happening
09. Untended Graves
10. None Of Us Asked To Be Here

Failure Will Follow
01. Pillar Of Salt
02. Bog Walker
03. Basin Of Vows

A cunning idea, this. Inspired by the notion of alternate timelines, THE ACACIA STRAIN have made two distinct new albums. On the first, they pose the question: what would this band sound like if it went all-out for brutality and speed? On the second, they imagine a world where THE ACACIA STRAIN eschew deathcore in its well-worn entirety in favor of a doomed-out and atmospheric wall of slow-motion sound. Founding vocalist Vincent Bennett has recently noted that he feels that his band are finally fulfilling their creative potential. In reality, they have always been an uneasy fit in the deathcore world: too smart, too restless, too resistant to cliché. "Step Into The Light" and "Failure Will Follow" just happen to represent the most bombastic expression of that hard-earned outsider status yet.

It hardly needs saying that both of these albums will crush anything and everything in their respective paths. "Step Into The Light" is almost shockingly succinct at times, as THE ACACIA STRAIN ease through the gears, delivering everything from curb-stomping beatdowns to vicious flashes of blasting grind. The sheer ferocity behind the likes of "Is This Really Happening" and "Chain" (all 72 seconds of it) is laudable enough, but Bennett's crew are wonderfully adept at twisting chuggy riffs and cherished hardcore tropes into hideous new shapes. When the tempo drops, on the callous clatter of "Fresh Bones" and the lurching threat-flurry of "Teeth Of The Cursed Dog", THE ACACIA STRAIN sound equally commanding, but it's manic pace and steely-eyed belligerence that truly drive the whole enterprise. On the churning, deathly pummel of "Open Wound", the hateful sprawl of "Sinkhole" and the raging hardcore punk of "Untended Graves", they sound more destructive than ever before.

Everybody enjoys a vitriolic beat 'em up, and "Step Into The Light" satisfies that criteria while still managing to stretch THE ACACIA STRAIN's creative limits. In contrast, "Failure Will Follow" is a complete revelation. With only three tracks, spread across a grueling but gripping 40 minutes, this is their first comprehensive dive into doomy depths, and it suits them to the scorched and bloody ground. Each of these three epic tracks is as righteously pulverizing, as one might expect, but each harbors multiple detours and inspired surprises.

"Pillar Of Salt" swarms menacingly for a solid nine minutes, with Bennett's eye-popping roar riding pitiless riffs alongside FULL OF HELL's Dylan Walker, before mesmerizing, ethereal female vocals emerge from the chaos like a siren's call across the waves. Possessed by the spirit of BLACK SABBATH, but palpably devoid of posi-vibes, "Bog Walker" is an extraordinary 17-minute doom-core marathon. A seemingly endless barrage of excruciating, tar-thick distortion, its drawn-out, all-out assault has numerous ornate, dynamic moments bubbling up from the deep: most notably, a brief moment of poetic restraint that gives way to the heaviest riff on the entire record and then, gloriously, a terminally groovy final descent into riffed-out madness.

The closing "Basin Of Vows" is the most grotesque and hostile of the lot, as THE ACACIA STRAIN step ever further away from deathcore and towards some as yet ill-defined new strain of suppurating sludge. Grandiose and ambitious, it ends with a delicate shimmer of what sounds like electric piano. Maybe we should expect the unexpected from this band by now, but even taking their recent brilliance into account, "Failure Will Follow" feels unusually powerful and utterly fearless.

Author: Dom Lawson
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