The scene: Endscape #1047, adj: barren, industrial, gratuitous visual filters. The hero: Gas Mask Mook, exhausted after another long day of near-future photoshoots and fighting off angry crows. The soundtrack: the precise blend of death, thrash, groove, and metalcore that the astute reader might have already surmised lies behind this cavalcade of tropes. Montreal’s BornBroken forego silly grammatical conventions in their pursuit of a record that welcomes all comers, within the Hall and without. Is it the soundtrack to your apocalypse, or will BornBroken be forced to face some harsh truths of their own?
“Death/thrash” has been a not-so-secret code for “groove/metalcore” for years now, and BornBroken know it. But rather than use the former to disguise the latter, the Canadians call their spadecore a spadecore and ensure each of the four receives equal play. Opener “Empty Souls” makes a meal of heavy death/thrash ground chuck, but it’s the second-slated title track that manages to impress. Careening through beef-thrash riffs, casual slams, and dissonant bridges every bit the metalcore you expected, all in under a minute, “The Years of Harsh Truths and Little Lies” is refreshingly comfortable in its own skin. The song-writing is simple yet effective, your average chorus-verse affair spiced up with Lamb of God trills and heady thrash transitions. Ex-Endast guitarist Pepe Poliquin mans the mic with hard-scrabble screams evocative of Disarmonia Mundi‘s Claudio Ravinale at times. While his performance lacks depth overall, his tandem work here with the gang vocals cannot be faulted.
For the most part, the elements that might jockey for position in this unholy mix work better together – yes, even the groove and metalcore. The blend comes together far stronger in the hands of BornBroken than it could (should?) have. They have a knack for twisting aspects of the music I might otherwise turn my nose up at into worthwhile centerpieces. The Lamb of God breakdown on “The Only One” and Pantera throwback grooves to “Fight” stand out as charismatic elements on a record that if anything could use more moments – of all flavors – with that quality. That seems odd to say, but with riff quality sitting mostly in the merely decent category, those pieces do more than offer a change of pace – they offer viable checkpoints across the record. Without them, songs struggle to stand apart. Breakdown-laden closer “Listen” is as much of a snooze as you can imagine, but as much as I hate to say it, the redneck whispers of “Father Death” catch my ear more than the track’s plodding groove. Likewise with the gross rap metal sections of “Whitewashed” when compared to its core identity. “No Stranger to Failure” serves as the lone true paragon of BornBroken‘s ability to write a song that makes their stock metal pop. A few other songs come close to doing the job, but overall the record is too up and down to be reliable.
Though I’m naturally inclined to reject the white-toast-and-margarine tones of The Years, I’d be remiss if I pilloried them entirely. Standing between thrash’s slyness and death’s viscosity gives the music neither of the qualities the production seeks to emulate. When required, however, the guitars trundle through brutality and tremolos evenly. It’s not perfect, but it’s something. Samuel Santiago (ex-Gorod, ex-First Fragment) brings a little extra to the kit, though his cymbals both sit high in the mix and crash with enough vigor to attract unwanted attention. Poliquin’s vocals sit almost on even pegging with the instrumentation, which may be a good thing depending on your view of the genre. It doesn’t help with the listening experience though. By the end of the record, when The Years hits its most tiresome lows, the production is just another brick in the wall.
No one goes to the promo bin for metalcore unless they’re looking to put a beating on a band. That The Years of Harsh Truths and Little Lies comes out bruised but not bloodied, in spite of my malicious intentions, should tell you that it’s got a solid foundation. In all likelihood, BornBroken‘s sound will not evolve much going forward. If they can tweak it, however, only slightly, to add in some extra charisma and counter the various problems, the next time around might be worthy of a full-throated recommendation. I’ll believe it when I see it though.