A wise man once told me that you should never, ever refuse to do something just because someone else has done it before you and done it poorly. I think that this is very good advice. It’s advice that really counts when it comes to breakdowns, for example, which have been considered to be the death knell for deathcore and metalcore since they became irritating and out of fashion in the underground. An Awakening is the debut record from the Portland, Oregon based Those Who Lie Beneath and they have certainly not shied away from the standards of the deathcore scene, something that has been has done very badly before them.
I’ve done a lot of thinking about the genre (and ripped on it quite a bit), but I think I know partially what’s going on here. See, fundamentally, whether death metal guys want to admit or not, deathcore is heavy as hell. It is just as heavy as many of the heaviest death metal bands you can name. Those short haired kids and Luke Skywalkers have out death metaled death metal at its own game with the use of riffy as hell guitar, blasty drums, inaudible bass and borderline pukey cookie monster growls. Those Who Lie Beneath shares all of the elements that really make me as a death metal fan excited, but yet somehow it rubs me the wrong way.
The problem occurred to me as I was listening to An Awakening and it became clear. Aside from the production issues that I don’t like: the songwriting on An Awakening is just sub-par. Not only does it lack direction, but it lacks other dimensions. 95% of the time it is either amelodic grind style riffs with lots of trem picking and widdly widdly on the high strings in order to be technical, but rarely is a theme ever given time to gestate in a song. Riffs are rarely repeated, but neither are they given the attention that they deserved in the first place. The sporadic riffing doesn’t lead to something that is mentally engaging, but instead it’s just a big turn off. The chug chug scream scream chug chug breakdowns are boring (with the exception of the breakdown in “Frozen Feastings” which was righteous) and there are scarcely good hooks. Break it all down to its bare bones: and there is very little substance here, just style.
Those Who Lie Beneath actually do shine at moments, however, when they let their melodic side shine and get more dynamic in their writing style. The track “Through His Eyes” has some amazing guitar work in the beginning and has a real sense of a semblance of structured songwriting, instead of being a vehicle for a breakdown (which you do eventually get, and may I add is boring as fuck.) The musicianship is great, and the band shows this off on the final couple of tracks on the album (“As the Vultures Circle” and “Still Breathing”) which flow nicely into each other, the former probably being one of the more dynamic tracks on the album and the latter being a 7 minute guitar solo that closes out the album with some beautiful melodies that were missing throughout the whole thing.
It is not the throwaway breakdowns that ruin this record for me, it is the rock hard dedication to conforming to the standards of a scene. These guys are obviously talented and good songwriters when it actually shows through, but instead of using that talent to create interesting, progressive and fascinating metal, which they are capable, they play to the lowest common denominator. This band has all the makings of excellent metal that could push death metal in a different direction, but it falls short because it is unfocused and cliche. Better luck next time, dudes.