While I’m quite comfortable in the realm of technical death metal, the whole European tech-metal/djent boom around 2010 never really made sense to me. Where did all of these bands come from, and why did so many sound like even shittier versions of Periphery? Regardless of the source, I can intuit from the number of stupidly named festivals that the continental metalheads keep holding that tech metal — without the death — is pretty popular somewhere. Bear fit pretty neatly into this circle. They’re Belgian, play a sort of Meshuggah-influenced blend of hardcore and metal, and they survived the massive die-off of other djent bands that happened when most everyone who enjoyed or played djent turned twenty.
Don’t mistake my bewilderment and insults for real antipathy, though. There’s no rule that forbids Europeans who listen to too much Meshuggah from writing good music, and three albums in, Bear have clearly figured out something that works for them. /// is all groove all the time, with a bit of grit under the polish to keep it all a little timbrally compelling. It doesn’t distinguish so much between different songs as between different pulses, and the band varies tempo and switches riffs often enough for /// not to get too bogged down in its own heaviness. “7” is one of the album’s most interesting songs, with a few Devin Townsend-inspired vocoders and whirling electronics, and it’s a good example of the best the band has to offer in general.
The general message of /// is groove and volume, and while Bear max out both axes here, the impact just isn’t enough to really grip you. Now that every album is by law diminished to an angry DR5 paste, volume won’t get you anywhere, and without groove-writing chops like Meshuggah or The Mars Volta‘s Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, 40 minutes is a long time to sustain yourself on grooves, especially when they usually devolve into straight eighths pretty quickly. It all works out in the moment, but in the end, the only memorable parts of /// are the experiments. Some, like “7” are successful, but others… not so much. “Adjust.Adapt” injects a bit of melody to round out the album, but quickly outgrows its britches, so to speak. Perhaps it can hand them down to the children’s choir that closes everything out. You read that right. In a stunning misunderstanding of their own music’s needs and merit, Bear close out the album with utter dreck, acting as if the whole 40 minutes of angsty groove has led to a profound revelation about peace and love.
Bear don’t take up too much of your time with songs, or even with the whole album, and /// is at least relatively short; the band throw a few punches, do a little dance, and step out of the ring. The problem is that the fight has been fixed. /// is engineered to make the hits big and painful, but when it comes down to technique — in this metaphor, the riffs — the album is less prize fighter and more of a Mongo-type character. Bear only pawn in game of djent.
As with most tech/djent/groove metal, /// is enjoyable only until you hold your head still, and if you listen too closely it all sort of falls apart. Bear don’t really stand up to the best of their euro-tech peers like Frontierer and C.B. Murdoc in terms of songwriting, memorability, or intensity, and /// feels more like exercise than art for most of its runtime. After the first two spins its novelty quickly wore thin and the number of moments I found interesting plummeted. It’s not a tiring, offensive, or even really bad album, but despite a few good moments I never found myself looking forward to listening to it. Unless you’re some sort of djent fiend or tech-fest junkie, your mileage, ahem, kilometrage, is unlikely to vary.