We’re all familiar with the uncanny valley, yes? When something bears most of the aesthetic qualities of a living being, but a few crucial little details are off and the whole thing gives you the heebie-jeebies? Metal has such a valley, and the ambiguous beast called “modern metal” lives there. He bears many qualities of what we know as metal, but like this creepy fucking thing it’s the beast’s eyes that give it away: “modern metal” seems to see songs as a series of parts thrown together to gain attention via being a stark contrast to what preceded it instead of a unified whole: good cop/bad cop vocals, aggressive verse to saccharine chorus, and sudden breakdowns are the most common methods of this. French modern metal/melodic deathcore newcomers Chabtan try their hand at this style and wind up creating a cluttered, convoluted, and underwhelming painting on a shiny canvas with their full-length debut The Kiss of Coaticue.
Chabtan have a very modern sound, for better or worse. Everything is tight and precise, with genre standard downtuned guitars chugging away behind Swedish flavored melodies in order to sound heavy. It often comes across as a deathcore-oriented take on Arch Enemy (Amott-core?) with breakdowns, staccato riffs, and chuggy dissonance aplenty. There are also American style aggro-groove riffs a la Devildriver to mix things up, but this all creates an emphasis on the immediate jarring appeal that doesn’t encourage replays or reward close attention. You’ll hear an admittedly decent rock-based riff just appear apropos of nothing (“Follow the Darkest Way”) or a breakdown deliver a spinning pit-ninja kick to a song structure that didn’t build up to anything meaningful in the first place (“Reptile”), for instance. Put simply, if you mash together styles of the last ten or so years that were popular with the young neon-sporting crowd, it would come out pretty similar to this.
Of all their disparate parts, the melodic segments are Chabtan’s strongest suit. The guitar hook that truly introduces “Born From Vucub Caquix” and also acts as its chorus shows these guys can craft a solid melody, and “Astral Monsters” winds up as the best song due to its overall cohesiveness and mostly tolerable early metalcore-isms. The chorus of “Anthropomorphic Beast” is bouncy fun that brought me back to when I used to spin The Oncoming Storm all the time, but nostalgia couldn’t exclude the whole: the surrounding song is platitudinous and left me just wanting it to hurry up and get to the chorus again every time I listened to it, and most of the other songs just made me want them to hurry up and end.
What really hamstrings The Kiss of Coaticue is that much of the music can’t decide if it wants to be punishing or melodic and winds up as neither. This is the uncanny valley, and “Ixtab” is one example out of many. The introductory aggro riff instantly flatlines, the Gothenburg-core verse and blasty prechorus don’t hold catchy licks or much sonic weight, and the ending keys don’t add worthwhile melody to the heaviness because they’re not interesting and the heaviness simply wasn’t there. The title track moves from an acoustic intro that wasn’t really needed, to more insipid core-riffing and a chorus with some off-putting clean vocals that seem like they’re meant to create a hook, but it ends up being neither catchy nor creating an interesting counterpoint, becoming hackneyed and forgettable. The harmonics in “Visions of the Snake” are memorable because they’re irritating, and the uninteresting dissonance behind the recurring lead simply doesn’t work and sounds forced.
On top of all this, The Kiss of Coaticue has a squashed and drab Frederik Nordstrom mix and master, providing guitars that sound over-processed with fuzz added in via post-production, bass that’s probably there somewhere, drums that sound sterile and lack punch, and vocals that fit but don’t excite despite the shifts from gruff hardcore shouts to shrieks to clean singing. I’ve spent a lot of time criticizing this record, and for good reason: Chabtan are doubtlessly professionals when it comes to playing their instruments and presenting their image, but not when it comes to writing songs. All considered, The Kiss of Coaticue winds up boring, forgettable, and an unnecessary listening experience.