Bear – Propaganda Review

How much good groove metal have we even heard in the last decade? Unto the Locust was, in my opinion, Machine Head’s last good album, and that’s about where it ends for me. Groove-influenced bands like The Haunted have worked much better than bands that use it as its core. Belgian quartet Bear seek to subvert that formula by stapling several genres to its creamy groove center. In his review of their last attempt, however, Kronos spoke of djent, of over-reliance on groove, and of immemorability. Does Propaganda shake up their formula enough to increase in our standing? Do I just like it more than Kronos? Or is the opposite true and did the Bear just shit in the woods?

Propaganda is a bit of a strange beast. Yes, as mentioned, the central proposition is groove metal, but Bear pull in a bunch of unexpected influences from around the scene. The vocals are primarily a core roar, but they are harsh enough not to be out of place on a death metal record, and you’ll even hear the occasional blackened scream pop up. The clean vocals, on the other hand, are quintessential groove material, even making a foray into crossover on opener “Dissolve Dissipate.” Over the course of the first few tracks, the riffs become more angular as the influence of mathcore on the janky leads becomes more obvious, a great combo that sets off the relative smoothness of the compositions and keeps you on your toes.

All this really works in the band’s favor. Propaganda is a rock-solid example of how to mix the attitude from groove with other genres to create a much more effective combo. The riffs are sharp and energetic, particularly the lacerating tones of “Red Throne” and the incredibly addictive “Apollo’s Heist.” Occasionally welcome streaks of melodicism pierce the siege, such as the post-hardcore chorus on “Flares,” and the tempo varies quite a bit as well, even from the scorching opener to the subsequent mid-pace heel-dragger of a title track. Considering the technical ability required to deal with the off-kilter riffing and quick stop-start patterns in the drumming, the band performs more than admirably. The drums in particular are frantic yet tight, drawing from both metal and D-beat as a driving force.

The album isn’t entirely free of the typical issues that plague many groove metal artists. There’s a good deal of posturing, although the political threads simmering under the surface of the lyrics give that tougher-than-thou an air of legitimate rebellion. The use of pinch harmonics and flat chugs skate along the border of overuse, but the use of off-kilter rhythms and unexpected melodic patterns, owing to the mathcore influence, ensure these overly familiar tropes don’t make the music feel stale. In addition, the production is solid as a rock. Though the vocals may take up a bit more space than I love, the fat-bottomed bass is lovely, and the master is quite clear, an objective improvement over its predecessor. With music this heated a little loudness is less of an issue with me, but a better production that’s easier on the ears and allows all elements to shine is always preferable over smashed sound quality for the sake of aesthetics.

So either I like Bear a lot better than Kronos, or they have made a pretty big leap forward since ///. A cursory perusal of that album seems to indicate that it’s a bit of column A and a bit of column B. Whatever the case, with Propaganda, Bear show that with the right application of diversifying flavors and solid performances, groove metal is still a valid foundation for a killer album with unexpectedly addictive riffs, unbridled aggression, and surprising variety. Bear’s new album is pretty fucking killer, and that is no mere propaganda.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Pelagic Records
Websites: bearpropaganda.bandcamp.com | bearpropaganda.com | facebook.com/bearpropaganda
Releases Worldwide: May 8th, 2020

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