‘I will resist the urge,’ I tell myself upon selecting for review the newest album by EDM-infused deathcore act The Browning. ‘I will not grab the low hanging fruit. I will not let a single nugget of potty humor plop into this review. I won’t pinch off a single bad pun. I will halt my immature mental faculties in their tracks without leaving the slightest skidmark. I will take the high road and flush away all traces of anal-based content from my mind. I will…’ – alright, enough of that shit. (Okay seriously, I’ll stop now). In all honesty, I grabbed Isolation – the Kansas City quartet’s third full length since forming in 2005 – fully expecting to hate it. After all the great albums that landed in my lap recently, low-brow electronica/metalcore seemed like an interesting change of pace, and while I get 95% of our readership probably despises this music, I did my best to go into Isolation with an open mind.
And you know what? It wasn’t good, but there were certainly some surprises. Anyone who’s ever heard the chug-heavy deathcore of Emmure or The Last Ten Seconds of Life knows what to expect from the base sound: overwhelmingly heavy, percussive guitars which essentially play a constant breakdown, overlaid by throaty, toughguy growling and chunky drumming with an occasional blast sprinkled in for variety. The Browning mix it up by incorporating electronica elements, not just as a flourish a la Feed Her to the Sharks, but as a keystone element of their sound. Songs like “Cryosleep” ride on dancy, flashy synths that sound inspired by an Eastern-European nightclub, while “Isolation” works dubstepy electronics and rave melodies between its smashed chords and hammering rhythm. Later, “Hex” utilizes background ‘oh-oh’ choir effects that faintly recall the infamous title screen music of Halo.
The best parts of Isolation, however, are the brief moments of melodic metalcore that occasionally materialize from the explosive, synth-cloud haze. First single “Pure Evil” morphs its electronic melody into a fairly catchy, beatdown guitar lick; while album highlight “Spineless” moves from a savage chug into a simple but downright vicious melodic riff that flows back into the synthline. “Fallout” is interesting not just for the twinkling, apocalyptic piano that persists in the background, but also for its somewhat catchy, simple clean refrain of “We live in the fallout!”
So what’s bad? Pretty much everything else. While I initially enjoyed Isolation for its relentless, grooving energy, further listens revealed what a dull album this really is. It’s not just that the nonstop chugging gets old, or that vocalist Jonny McBee’s screams, while passionate, quickly become grating with their unwavering pattern and inflection. The electronic parts, which are such a large part of the group’s sound, simply aren’t that good. Tracks like opener “Cynica” or aforementioned “Pure Evil” sound like the product of McBee playing around on a Casio keyboard over some synthetic beats and calling it good, rather than attempting to come up with any sort of catchy melody. As expected, the production is squashed, although for all the burly heft, the music is remarkably layered – between the swirling synths and guitars, it can sometimes be hard to tell exactly what’s going on, but you can rest assured it’s probably not that interesting.
Listening to Isolation is like taking two handfuls of Robitussin and getting body-slammed by a sumo wrestler for 43 minutes while your fat high school classmate plays Dance Dance Revolution in the background. Between the ceaseless, sometimes obnoxious synths, the pounding guitars, the battering drumbeats, and McBee’s constant roars – all clamoring at your eardrums for attention – the album is often overbearing, even if it does provide a bit of masochistic pleasure with its occasionally catchy moments and sheer inertia. It’s only once the high wears off that the banality of the music reveals itself. Furthermore, moments like the guest vocal rap verse from Emmure’s Frankie Palmeri on “Disconnect” are cringeworthy, not to mention that (as MetalSucks pointed out) the irony of Palmeri denouncing people for their selfie addiction is laughable. Hats off to those that enjoy this stuff, but in those rare cases when I want an electro-metalcore fix, I think Feed Her to the Sharks is all I need.