Sometimes it’s almost impossible not to look back on the past and ask ‘what if?’ As in ‘what if I’d actually taken those piano lessons in middle school and learned to play an instrument?’ or ‘what if I’d actually talked to that cute girl in my sophomore English class and didn’t end up as a single guy in my mid-twenties eating Chinese takeout on my couch while wearing a faded Morbid Angel shirt with the sleeves cut off?’ With debut Distant Call, German thrashy metalcore quartet Awaiting Downfall aim to answer their own versions of this question: what if Trivium didn’t go full Metallicore with The Crusade and instead tried to remake Ember to Inferno? What if Shadows Fall wrote music people actually cared about after Threads of Life? What if more ’00s metalcore bands drew inspiration from thrash instead of burying us up to our necks in harmonic minor riffs culled from 90s Gothenburg? The result is slick, catchy, and inspired – but not without flaws.
Essentially, Distant Call is the sound of a band who loved the shit out of Ember to Inferno and tried to make their own version of it. All the tropes from Trivium‘s debut are here: crunchy melodic metalcore riffs spiritually indebted to the Big 4 of thrash, alternating clean/harsh vocals, and whirling skyrocket solos courtesy of guitarist Maximillian Gockel. There’s also the unintelligibly deep spoken-word bridges, prolonged acoustic intros, and screams that occasionally repeat the lyrics of the clean vocals. Hell, even Downfall‘s sense of melody is similar: after some ripping Bay Area chugs, early highlight “From Martyr to Murderer” hits with an ascending, hold-nothing-back chorus that immediately calls to mind Heafy & friends. Ditto for the bobbing mid-paced verse and cleanly sung refrain of “To Disinfect the World’s Wounds.”
But while the influence is blatantly obvious, Downfall make things exciting enough that it’s frankly hard to care. Gockel is a talented guitarist with a ear for good melody, and while I’m not sure who handles the singing (vocals are credited to 3 of the 4 members), the clean vocal melodies offer some excellent guitar-vocal interplay and earwormy moments. “Smell of Deceit” complements the understated, almost spoken-word delivery of its verse with a Megadeth-style gallop before climaxing with a strained airy chorus and a tightly fused breakdown. Later, “The Only Way to Overcome” stands out for its jumpy, juggled chainsaw chords and bouncy refrain; while penultimate track “Greet the Vultures” sits proudly on nod-along, harmonized verse guitars and the storming flutter of its pre-chorus. “Rack Upon Racks” mixes things up with urgent August Burns Red-style fretwork that gives way to a stomping rhythm and a marching drumbeat that beckons a second-half breakdown.
But while breakdowns are fortunately scarce (and well integrated when they do occur), there are some serious issues affecting my enjoyment of Call. At 12 tracks and 70 minutes, this is a long album for the style, with some tracks bloated to unnecessary 7-minute runtimes. Likewise, songs like “A Confession of Pain” and “Feel What I Feel” should have been left off altogether – the former for its terribly awkward vocal lines, the latter for being a dull overlong ballad which feels included solely for variety. The biggest issue, however, is the clean singing. While the vocal parts are written well, the singing sounds unpolished and frail at times, and occasionally seems to have difficulty hitting the notes. It’s great that the band didn’t use Autotune as a crutch, but a more skilled and smooth performance would definitely have helped.
Fortunately, the modern production offers welcome roominess, with decent bite in the riffs and bright gleam in the open notes. But the best thing about Call is the band’s earnestness. In a fresh and invigorated way, Awaiting Downfall manage to capture that spirit of metal’s popular resurgence in the early ’00s, when Killswitch Engage was first blossoming and nu-metal was finally in its death throes. In essence it feels like the band are capitalizing on the unfulfilled potential of early Trivium‘s thrash-metalcore, in a way other bands (and arguably even Trivium themselves) largely failed to do. With memorable choruses, shiny leads, and copious clean vocals, this definitely makes me curious to see what Downfall can deliver with a bit more mileage under their belts. For now, the result is enjoyable but hardly essential.