An old teacher once told me that the best poetry conveys a sense of longing. I would argue the best music does the same thing. Perhaps that’s what first drew me to Canadian melodic hardcore quintet Counterparts about four years ago, when life was growing difficult and the only solace was a long jog through the woods while listening to the group’s 2010 debut Prophets. Unlike other bands that fell under the ‘hardcore’ umbrella, Counterparts were special: their music possessed both frantic technicality and a striking sense of melody, combining hammering aggression with enough genuine emotion to make Killswitch Engage look like Ke$ha. My love affair continued upon discovering 2011’s The Current Will Carry Us and especially 2013’s The Difference Between Hell and Home, the latter of which is perhaps my favorite hardcore album released this decade.
But after a slight step down with 2015’s Tragedy Will Find Us and numerous lineup shifts that left vocalist Brendan Murphy as the only founding member remaining, my expectations for fifth full-length You’re Not You Anymore weren’t the highest. And in retrospect, maybe that’s why this album steamrolled me the way it did.
The interesting thing is that, even with the loss of founding guitarist and primary songwriter Jesse Doreen, You really isn’t a change in the band’s sound. This is still the same headstrong group that recalls a quicker and agiler Misery Signals, the same group that specializes in fluid songwriting, soaring crescendos, and lyrics that make you want to send Brendan a box of chocolates just to quell his desperate screams. The difference is refinement. Just as Slayer did with Reign in Blood, You shows Counterparts distilling their sound to its purest essence, cutting things down to a powerhouse 28 minutes that’s crammed with pounding choruses, dazzling leads, and breakneck riffs. This isn’t just a tour de force, this is the sound of life itself rushing through your ear canals one brilliant moment at a time.
Where to start? Check the melodic gang shouts and tearing riffs of lead single “Bouquet,” whose breakdown chorus gives birth to a tight little guitar lick that’s been stuck in my head since July. Those same melodic gang shouts are later used to complement the screamed refrains of “Fragile Limbs” and “Haunt Me,” the latter of which augments its soaring delivery with echoing notes that evoke The Ghost Inside. But before getting too caught up in the vocals, check the bright chords and skyrocketing leads of early standout “Arms Like Teeth,” proof positive that bringing back former guitarist Alex Re for songwriting contributions was the right move.
Also commendable is the cohesion, with each of these eleven tracks complementing the next as they ricochet between captivating ideas. It all culminates masterfully in the closing title track: after an acoustic opening and a chorus backed by subtle and wistful clean vocals, the song collapses into an acoustic interlude, before exploding back with a wall of guitars that support the most emotionally crushing verse on the album. Ending abruptly with a shout of the album title, the bottom line is clear: while some may argue Counterparts aren’t metal, I’ll argue till I’m blue in the face that You’re Not You Anymore was hands down the best album released in 2017.
Tracks to check out: “Bouquet,” “Haunt Me,” “You’re Not You Anymore”