Ash Return – The Sharp Blade of Integrity Review

Metalcore is controversial term with a broad meaning as evidenced by the fact that it can accurately be applied to any/all of Killswitch Engage, Converge, and The Dillinger Escape Plan. The meaning is so broad, in fact, that it’s essentially meaningless when used as a standalone genre tag. When researching a metalcore release, I find myself trying to identify what style of metalcore we’re actually talking about. Many metalheads loathe the term, automatically disregarding any band that dare play it, and some ruthless angry metal site taskmasters might even threaten to fill your review queue with metalcore if you happen to give out a few too many 4.0s. Hoping to circumvent the negative connotations of “metalcore,” German band Ash Return have come up with their own tag: swordcore. Let’s find out if a rose by any other name would core as hard.

As irony would have it, Ash Return‘s swordcore is possibly the most literally accurate example of metalcore I’ve come across. Essentially a mixture of trve heavy metal and hardcore, The Sharp Blade of Integrity shows the band specializing in crunchy riffs and punky gang shouts — picture Iron Maiden or Iced Earth with hardcore vox and some three-note punk. This probably doesn’t sound like an appealing combo to most of you, but I have to say that I’ve been impressed with how enjoyable this album has turned out to be. The band’s sound is quite cohesive for a debut, but not surprising given the members’ history. After long-running German hardcore band Miozän met its demise, the four instrumentalists joined together to give it another go under the name Ash Return and adding Gloryful vocalist Johnny la Bomba to the fold to shout over their traditional metal melodies and riffs.

Opener “One” enjoys a forty-five second clean guitar intro before punk chords and latter-day Iron Maiden guitar leads begin the song in earnest. Johnny’s vocals are powerful and passionate, and when combined with the gang shouts, they transform the track into a rousing anthem. Embedded single “Time is the Enemy” reminds me of The Offspring in more than one way — the guitar melodies remind me of “The Kid’s Aren’t Alright,” and the overall style created by the soaring chorus, melodic guitars, and rhythms had me thinking of the 90s alternative pop punk stars on every spin. “F.T.W.” is simplistic and a bit juvenile lyrically, but I’ll be damned if it’s not a catchy fucking song and one that I caught myself involuntarily singing around my young children despite the profanity. Iced Earth gets a nod on both “Burning Heart” and “Don’t Fear the Flame,” the former starting with a galloping Jon Schaffer riff and the latter landing like a snarling Barlow-era mid-paced sledgehammer.

Not everything on The Sharp Blade of Integrity hits with such power however. Several tracks are decent but unmemorable, and “Delete” just doesn’t seem to get the balance right between the punk and the metal and ends up being somewhat of a dud. The production is great with an excellent and satisfying guitar tone that does both of the band’s stylistic heritages justice. Guitarists Kniffel and Outso — oooh, that’s really fun to say — win MVP honors with their ability to craft simple yet catchy riffs and excellent leads. At eleven tracks and 37 minutes, no song overstays its welcome, helping to smooth over some of the less stellar moments. “Drown in Tears,” “Time is the Enemy,” “F.T.W.,” “Burning Heart,” and “Don’t Fear the Flame” are all worth the price of admission provided Ash Return‘s style jives with your sensibilities.

I honestly didn’t expect much from a release touted as “swordcore,” but I have to say I quite enjoy this. Upbeat, catchy, and heavy, The Sharp Blade of Integrity makes for excellent workout music without leaning on the standard breakdown trope of most metalcore. I admire Ash Return‘s authentic approach to songwriting, and I’ll look forward to seeing how The Sword of Core strikes its next target.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Swell Creek Records
Releases Worldwide: May 1st, 2020

« »