Last year Enabler put out one hell of a record in La Fin Absolue du Monde. I didn’t score it, as we don’t do that for our Things You Might Have Missed features, but you can tell how much I loved it by its presence at the top of my Top Ten end-of-year list, above even Voices‘ wonderful London. Looking back I might swap them around, but no matter; it’s a killer album, so when Madam X received the promo for Enabler‘s latest opus she kindly sent it in my direction. I was, naturally, throbbing with anticipation.
Shortly after receiving this promo, though, came the news that Enabler‘s former bassist Amanda Daniels had accused frontman Jeff Lohrber – who played all the instruments on this latest record – of sustained physical and sexual abuse. If you read metal news sites you will no doubt already know about this; if not, Kim Kelly’s recent interview with Amanda is essential reading. She describes some pretty heinous stuff. Now, I am a parasitic narcissist, so of course my first concerns on hearing the news were about how this would affect my enjoyment of the band. As it turns out, not insignificantly. Enabler were fantastic at conveying pure anger in catchy metallic-hardcore form, but it’s hard to listen to a band selling rage when you know their main songwriter may express his own through domestic violence.
But let’s pretend for a while that I can be objective about the music here (hahaha): is it still good? Album opener “Suffer to Survive” suggests that it might just be, continuing from where La Fin Absolue du Monde left off with its combination of catchy riffs, vitriolic vocals and driving intensity. It’s not quite the beginning “Close my Eyes” was, but a good start nonetheless. Title track “Fail to Feel Safe” continues in rapid-fire d-beat mode before introducing a new element to Enabler‘s sound: the emotionally rousing melodic chorus. While they’ve incorporated prominent melody before, they’ve never done it so blatantly and straightforwardly as they do here, and it comes across as rather sappy. Mawkish melodies also feature in “By Demons Denied,” “Demolition Praise,” and make up the whole of pseudo-epic “Malady,” which tragically brings to mind early-2000s emocore. Lohrber decided to accompany these sections with his clean vocals, which was a mistake.
Between these missteps are some genuinely excellent riffs underpinned by Lohrber’s tight and creative drumming: the openings of “By Demons Denied,” “Sinister Drifter” and the title track are fantastic, the slow build and release in “Euphoric Revenge” – though ruined by dynamic range compression – is bound to get heads banging, and some of the more straightforwardly poppy riffs are undeniably infectious. But these moments are sandwiched between less exciting segments ranging from uninspired filler to insipid dross. “Sail the Sea of Fire” is largely throwaway pap, “Demolition Praise” shifts from fast, fun pop-punk to tedious, slow repetition of an entirely generic riff, and I’ve already taken a pop at the terrible “Malady.” On average the tracks are longer; Lohrber frequently attempts to squeeze several moods into the same song, usually by writing an “epic” ending. While I’m all for diversity, it really doesn’t work here, instead making the record sound unfocussed.
The mastering has also really hurt this album: it’s DR5 and a bad one at that. Any textural variation has been sacrificed at the alter of loudness, with all builds and breakdowns neutered by the compression. Clipping manifests at various points, and well before the end of the record I was suffering listening fatigue. The bass is largely inaudible, and while the guitars are thick and gritty, there’s no definition to them so they frequently descend into mush.
This is not a terrible record by any means, but it is immensely disappointing when compared against their back-catalogue. From a purely music perspective it’s far from a fitting epitaph for a once excellent band, but really that’s a moot point when you’re listening to songs called “Suffer to Survive” and “Fail to Feel Safe” written by an (alleged) serial abuser. Avoid.