Once almost exclusively the preserve of floppy-haired teenagers, metalcore is a style that seems to delight and depress in equal measure, depending on whom you talk to. There is a smattering of bands who fall into the genre however, such as Heaven Shall Burn, While She Sleeps and Crossfaith, to name but a few, who manage to demonstrate that with the right nous it’s in fact possible to produce a substantially more wholesome, mature record than your stereotypical ‘core’ band. Formed in Syracuse in 2001 out of the ashes of local straight-edge vegancore outfit Earth Crisis, Freya have been churning out sludgy metalcore, with much emphasis on their hardcore beginnings, for over a decade now. They even survived an Earth Crisis reunion, albeit with vocalist Karl Buechner as the only remaining EC member still in the lineup. Grim represents their fifth full-length studio album, but is it worth saving up your pennies for?
In a word: no. As already alluded to, Grim is not your average metalcore record, with big fat riffs and a strong sludgy element forming the basis of Freya’s sound, and nary a whiny sing-along chorus in sight. Buechner’s hardcore roots are on show for all to see in his bruising, attitude-laden vocal delivery, and recently recruited sticksman Dirk Verbeuren, of long-time Soilwork and now Megadeth fame, puts in a typically solid performance behind the kit. On the face of it then, Grim seems to have decent potential, so why does it miss the mark so spectacularly? Well, rather like a clapped out compact with an enormous farty exhaust can, there’s plenty of grunt but not much substance; in other words, it’s just a bit boring.
Without the soaring melodies of some of their more accessible metalcore brethren, Freya really needed to pull out all of the compositional stops in order to craft something inspiring, and they have resoundingly failed in this department, as Grim is utterly forgettable. Being the martyr that I am, for the purposes of this review I’ve listened to the album in its entirety more times than I care to reflect upon, and yet I still struggle to recall one riff or song from memory; that is how unremarkable Grim is. It has all the hallmarks of a record thrown together for the sake of it, rather than to showcase new ideas or convey a message, and ends up sounding fatigued and cumbersome as a result.
While Earth Crisis were always pretty good at what they did, their activist status meant that they could get away with the odd duff song here or there providing their core message (no pun intended) endured. Freya don’t have such a luxury to fall back on. Buechner’s vocals just don’t have the clout that they used to, sounding more like a man going through the motions rather than delivering the kind of passionate sermon that characterized his early work with Earth Crisis, and with a palpable lack of adequate songwriting, everything feels formulaic and bland. The slightly soupy production ramps up the sludge factor somewhat, as exemplified in opener “The Alchemist” and “Hunter in the Dark,” however even here Freya fail to truly deliver, producing a sound vaguely reminiscent of Lord Dying but with most of the good bits sieved out. This unfortunately leaves us with a record that suffers from an acute case of support band syndrome – purely serviceable but not much more.
The best compliment I can pay Freya is that Grim is not actively objectionable, and it certainly won’t leave the listener running for the hills with their hands clasped over their ears. That said, it’s something of a beige Corolla experience in that it does what it’s designed to do with neither frivolity nor passion, reveling in its mere functionality – hardly characteristics indicative of Record o’ the Year material. If you’re a fanatical Earth Crisis fan and have a burning desire to keep Karl Buechner in asparagus and sparkling water for a while longer, then it may be worth a punt, but for anyone else it’s simply a lot of effort for not much reward.