Five years ago, another metal blog referred to As I Lay Dying’s Awakened as “the world’s first retro-metalcore album.” While that same not-to-be-named blog was also recently guilty of authoring one of the most idiotic self-serving shitposts I’ve ever read, in the case of Awakened they were actually right. With its melodic Gothenburg riffs, gang vocals, soaring clean choruses, and pummeling breakdowns, the record hearkened back to mid-00s metalcore at a time when the rest of the scene was too busy being balls deep in whatever Periphery was doing. Yet unlike other retro genres, retro-metalcore never really took off, much to the disappointment of guys like me who have fond memories of blasting Threat Signal while earning a minimum wage cleaning up golf balls and goose poop at the local driving range.
All things considered, Threat Signal were never that bad. The Canadian quintet’s 2006 debut Under Reprisal was exactly what my iPod Nano needed at the time, delivering an explosive take on metalcore that sounded something like a groovier and angrier Killswitch Engage. Lest you think it was just me, 2009 follow-up Vigilance was even good enough to earn a decent score from our Angry Overlord himself. Sadly the years since have yielded little more than endless line-up shifts and a mediocre self-titled album, making it hardly surprising that fourth full-length Disconnect seems to show Signal trying to recreate those glory days.
And boy are they trying. Upon pushing play on opener “Elimination Process,” I’m tempted to check my balls to make sure I still have pubes, because it feels like 2007 all over again. A jumpy Lamb of God riff, rapid chugs, and a slick clean chorus – you know the formula, and in the case of “Process” it’s actually a pretty fun start. As before singer Jon Howard delivers a strong showing on the vocal front, alternating between a thunderous growl, hoarse scream-singing, and cleans that recall Linkin Park’s late Chester Bennington. Guitarists Travis Montgomery and Matt Perrin are no slouches either, firing off some surprisingly adept solos along with everything else you’d expect from the genre – that is, chunky chords, bouncy melodeath riffs, synthy melodies beneath syrupy refrains, and downtuned chugs that I once heard a friend describe as “like bullfrogs fucking.”
Yet despite the stylistic throwbacks, the overall sound is actually surprisingly rock-y, recalling a mellower Soilwork or even latter-day All That Remains. Less than half of the vocals are actually growled, and many of these 10 tracks open with mellow clean picking before beating listeners over the head with their recycled alt-metal refrains. The obvious flaw here is that this style has been done to death and Threat Signal add nothing new to it, but that’s not the only issue. For all their chops the guitarists seem content to dwell in formulaic verse-chorus songwriting and riffs retrieved from metalcore’s cutting room floor, making tracks like “Nostalgia” and “Exit the Matrix” a total slog. The cliche nature also extends to the lyrics, with tracks like “Walking Alone” featuring such original gems as “I feel like we’re lost inside!” and “Be the change you want to see in the world!”
At 56 minutes Disconnect is too long, both overall and with regard to its individual songs. It’s also repetitive, and the clean modern production doesn’t do any favors. Yet for all my bitching, there are still some surprisingly enjoyable moments. Highlight “Aura” moves from tight melodic death riffs to a great vocal line in its chorus, even if its lyrics were given about as much thought as Austin Powers’ dental plan (“Right now… I feel like a rat inside a maze!”). With the exception of ill-conceived ballad “Betrayal” and the 10-minute songwriting mess which is closer “Terminal Madness,” Disconnect also gets better as it goes, with late standouts “To Thine Own Self Be True” and “Dimensions” featuring surprisingly catchy refrains and decent enough riffing.
And really, that summarizes Disconnect as a whole: “decent enough.” Nothing here is bad or offensive, but neither does anything color outside the lines that were drawn over a decade ago. Still, though it’s bloated, there are some catchy moments and skilled guitar-work, and fans of Parkway Drive’s last album or anyone looking to take a dive into the metalcore of days past is sure to enjoy a least a few cuts. Just try to ignore the fact that artwork looks like a bad Playstation One game.