Wisdom is a recluse, shunning most who seek it and often ignored when it crawls from out from its shade. Few of us possess it and those that claim so are the least likely to present proof of its mantel. I’m neither a sage nor an oracle like the priestesses of Delphi: the words of the divine do not flow past my lips, at least as far as I’m aware. If I was the Pythia, however, and my wisdom was sought by a band then you can be sure that I would stress in no uncertain terms to never name yourself or your music in such a way to invite jibes and self-satisfied one-liners from critics looking for an easy zinger. If only that had happened here, as it’s bad enough for a metalcore band, already a genre saddled with misfortune, to settle on the name Disparager but to then settle on Existential Dread as the album title? That is either the mark of supreme confidence or blissful ignorance. Take a guess.
I don’t dip my toes into metalcore’s shallow waters much these days, left embittered due to the ferocity and angular blood-letting of acts such as Botch, Cave In, and Converge was picked up, stretched out and drained of power by newer bands seeking fame at the expense of dignity. Contemporary metalcore is synonymous with saccharine hooks, preening band members and a sound that’s a faint whisper of a once great roar. By that measure I, like many of my fellow writers, tend to give the genre a wide berth but that doesn’t mean I’m dismissive of metalcore as a whole, it’s just that I expect little from modern bands when their promos land in my lap. So yes, dread clutched at my guts as I prepared myself to endure whatever torment the latest album from the Brooklyn quartet lay in wait for me.
As it turned out the music on tap wasn’t the disaster I had feared. Disparager, to their credit are not lacking in talent and once it was established that my ears weren’t going to rip themselves free from my head in protest I allowed myself a sigh of relief. “Promise (I’ve Already Surrendered)” offers a balanced example of Disparager’s style, a layered song that shifts in mood, displaying both the fires of passion and the embers of introspection. Converge has its fingerprints over many aspects of the music, so too does Narcissus although due to that band’s total obscurity it’s likely more coincidence than anything else. Existential Dread is prone to asynchronous tempo shifts that gives the album a dose of personality but it can be jarring, jolting the listener from their reverie. It’s a stumble, and not the only one as the record is burdened with the unfortunate habit of undermining its own success.
There’s no better example of this trait than the vocals. Christopher AhKao employs both clean and harsh singing, and while the former is elegiac the latter lacks power, leaving a malnourished sound. At times the vocals strain near to the point of breaking, so much so that I can almost taste the blood in my mouth from AhKao’s frayed and battered throat. The exceptions are on “Fall” and “Fire,” however “Fire” despite being the best track on the album manages to almost undo the goodwill through poor decision making. For example, two-thirds of the way into the track we reach a point of quivering elation as the fibrous, heavy riffing syncs in harmony to Ahkao exhorting “with the fire in your eyes” in what can be described as a perfect moment of synchronism…only for the chord to fumble, down-shift and push the listener away, leaving only a feeling of unrequited dissatisfaction.
If one were to lay out the individual sprogs, springs and sprockets that Existential Dread is constructed from, you would step back pleased at the craftsmanship, at how each individual piece has been rendered with care. Assembled, the machine shudders and heaves, the gnashing of misaligned gear-teeth a distraction too onerous to ignore. I absorbed enough enjoyment from the record that I didn’t rue my fate for being exposed to another abominable metalcore release but neither do I feel compelled to ever return to Existential Dread. So no, I’m not going to “disparage” the band for causing “existential dread,” rather I will lament that the music delivered falls well short of the talent that birthed it and only hope that future releases will succeed so that the whole is greater than the parts.