Sharks leapt right into the cultural zeitgeist recently, with Katy Perry’s cartilaginous companions helping turn the Superbowl halftime show into something out of Dorah the Explorer’s Beachside Acid Trip. It’s perfect timing for Australia’s Feed Her to the Sharks to release third album (and Victory Records debut) Fortitude. ‘Wait!’ you say. ‘Another review of a melodic metalcore band with a terrible name that references eating human females?’ Yes, but this time… it’s personal. A confession: I once had a huge love affair with metalcore. In high school, after months listening to mid-00s alt-grunge left me with nothing but faded HIM t-shirts and teenage ennui, metalcore reached out her black nail-polished hands and coaxed me in with her big, smooth choruses, all while exposing me to heavy metal’s seedy underworld via tooth-cracking breakdowns and razor-sharp melodeath riffs. While we eventually bid our farewells after I met the chain-smoking, leather-clad dame called death metal, metalcore still holds a special place in my heart. Like all old flames, at some point you’ll reconnect, and sometimes that connection sparks an excitement you forgot existed in the first place.
For me, that happened in 2012 when I discovered Sharks’ debut, The Beauty of Falling, and later their sophomore release, 2013’s Savage Seas. Fortitude continues right where Seas left off, using the same sweetly addictive formula: speedy, saccharine guitar melodies dunked in a glaze of electronic orchestration and digital beats, catchy Autotuned choruses, crash-cymbal riddled drumming sprinkled with occasional blastbeats, and chugging rock-candy chords crystallizing the whole Neapolitan medley into something still harsh enough to cut the roof of your mouth. Sound terrible? Well fortunately, Sharks have always maintained both an endearing playfulness and a hint of self-awareness that keeps me from rolling my eyes (you can’t name a song “My Bleeding Heart Swims in a Sea of Darkness” without tongue firmly planted in cheek). Simply put, they keep things fun.
Opener “The World is Yours” showcases this outright, blasting in with a harmonized In Flames riff and synthetic orchestration before dousing things in jumpy melodeath guitars, then crescendoing in a clean chorus that I’ll probably be singing to my steering wheel for the next few weeks. The catchy refrain/earcandy riff combination shows Sharks at their finest, and Fortitude offers plenty of this. See “Chasing Glory,” with its beatdown rhythm encapsulated by a massive, stomping lead, “Faithless,” with a guitar line Mors Principium Est would envy, closer “Let Go,” with its ‘I’m-leaving-you-forever’ grand finale chorus, and especially “Heart of Stone,” coasting on a titanic melodic groove that conjures images of a fifty-foot warthog rampaging down Sesame Street.
In all, vocalist Andrew Vanderzalm deserves special mention for delivering both the spittle-flinging, high-register screams and the smooth, melodic vocal hooks. Whether wailing about self empowerment (“Chasing Glory”), self degeneration (“Shadow of Myself”), or self-empowered degenerates (“Badass”), Andrew fosters a dynamic liveliness that’s further supplemented by inspired songwriting. See the 80s-style bridge with background chants of “Hey! Hey! Hey!” in aforementioned “Heart,” the occasional solos that flare up with simple glam-rock catchiness, or the squealing hair metal lead that closes “Badass.”
Of course, we leave old loves behind for a reason, and once the excitement of reconnecting fades, the bad breath and warts start revealing themselves. Here, those take the form of ‘hip’ moments like the atrocious Emmure-style rap-rock intro in “Chasing Glory.” Additionally, the obnoxious electronic beats tossed into seemingly every musical transition, while adding playful ridiculousness, are overdone, and the excessive chugs and breakdowns feel more like a songwriting crutch than an injection of brutality. “Burn the Traitor” is particularly guilty, leaning heavily on dull twinkling keyboards and meathead rhythms. Along with some later songs (“Badass” and “Walking on Glass”), “Traitor” drags Fortitude down with its mediocrity. Adding insult to injury, the choruses begin sounding similar near the end, and the production is heavily squashed – but as a plus, the blunt mix usually muddles the electronics and makes them easier to ignore.
Is it flawed? Yes. Embarrassingly over-the-top at times? Sure. But while I won’t be trading my Death records for a Buried in Verona hoodie anytime soon, I can’t deny this is a fun and energetic record that seems to offer a knowing wink amidst all the tropes. Purists may find it tough to stomach, but those who can choke down some unabashed modern metalcore like Beyond the Shore or Parkway Drive may be in for a treat. If nothing else, Left Shark approves [Dorah the Explore does acid? – Steel Druhm].