The dramatic fall from grace of the often maligned melodic death metal sub-genre is well documented among metalheads. Things were looking so damn rosy during the ’90s heyday. Bands like At the Gates, Dark Tranquillity, Hypocrisy, Carcass and scores of other notable, mostly Swedish bands combined razor sharp riffing, slick guitar harmonies and slicing threads of darkened melody into speedy, dynamic songs held in check by aggressive vocal lines and traditional death metal grunts. Unfortunately around the turn of the Millennium the scene stagnated badly and became awash with half-assed imitators, formulaic songwriting, blatant pandering to mainstream metal audiences and the dreaded pop and metalcore influence further tarnished the once formidable melodeath brand. However, I certainly haven’t written off the past 15 years. There’s been some cracking releases by the old guard and the occasional surprise gem, like the Arsis debut A Celebration of Guilt, while Natural Born Chaos remains a prime example of pop-infused dramatics and sugary clean vocal hooks working wonders within the melodeath framework. Meanwhile, modern day juggernauts Mors Principium Est and The Black Dahlia Murder remain powerhouse flag-bearers that instill the subgenre’s classic trademarks into a more vicious and shredding modern attack.
Young Belgian five piece Reject the Sickness arrive with their debut full-length Chains of Solitude, hinting at their chosen style with a moniker almost certainly derived from the 1999 debut album of New Jersey’s once insanely popular God Forbid. So can the band turn my skeptical frown upside down with a fresh sounding debut? Well firstly, let’s delve into the good points of Chains of Solitude. Musically the band is on point, delivering tight, energetic performances across the board and displaying their solid instrumental chops and technical prowess. Reject the Sickness are passionate about their work and apply themselves to their aggressive, metalcore-tinged melodic death craft. Sadly, solid musicianship and exuberance don’t necessarily translate to good song-writing and that’s where Reject the Sickness suffer. For all the aggressive drumming and speedy riffs and harmonies, there’s little in the way of standout material or songs that grab your attention and maintain the rage from start to finish.
Certain songs fare better than others and show glimpses of potential. “Psychopath” rips in satisfying fashion, rocketing along with an aggressive thrashy pulse and culminating with a rather eloquent shredding solo. Later album cut “Seedless” bleeds a solid mix of groove, speed and dynamics together with a fairly catchy clean/growled harmonized chorus. Elsewhere, bland or forgettable songwriting elements and questionable vocal variations dull the impact of promising songs like “Only Darkness is Real” and “Depravity,” both of which sound all the better when ratcheting up the speed near breaking point. Unfortunately some clunky arrangements, core-ish clichés and contrived elements pop-up and overshadow the album’s promise, evidenced on the likes of the title track and “Hopeless.” Things hit a low point with the sappy balladry of “Alone,” complete with cheesy piano lines and sub-par clean vocals. Thankfully it’s the only outright stinker here, but virtually every track has something that I can’t quite get on board with.
Although the songwriting misses the mark too often, Reject the Sickness possess quite an adventurous spirit to go with their accomplished instrumental skills. Progressive and ambient elements are threaded into their sound with potential for expansion into something more interesting, similar to what Sylosis managed on their most recent release. And although not enough riffs and melodies stick, lead guitarist Pepijn Desmet displays plenty of talent, particularly in the solo department. Chains of Solitude was respectably self-recorded by the band and mixed and mastered by Jochem Jacobs (Textures) at Split Second Sound in Holland. Predictably it’s a brickwalled recording, but not overwhelmingly so, sounding ultra slick and polished but rather clinical and unremarkable.
If Reject the Sickness can shed the weaker, generic aspects of their sound and sharpen their songwriting skills, they have the potential to overcome the frustrating elements that holds this debut back. Until then, Chains of Solitude has its moments but is ultimately a flawed, middle-of-the-road album that will likely be relegated to one of 2015’s also-rans.
Rating: 2.5 /5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Websites: RejectthesicknessOfficial | Rejectthesickness.Bandcamp.com | facebook.com/Rejectthesickness
Releases Worldwide: November 13th, 2015