Sometimes, I hear a band and wonder if anybody actually listens to them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure plenty of people blast The Acacia Strain while working on their trucks or whatever, but are those people actually listening to the riffs and paying attention to the songwriting,1 or do they just want something br00tal blasting in the background? I suspect the answer is the latter, and such is my distaste for bands who build their songs solely from breakdowns. By its very nature, a breakdown is supposed to “break down” the song. A breakdown without a buildup preceding it is like a kid kicking his building blocks around his playroom. Sure, it can be interesting to watch a toddler throw a tantrum, but is it really something you want to analyze? Or, in the case of music, actually listen to?
Lifesick‘s Swept in Black begs this question. On this full-length debut, the Danish quintet eschews interesting writing in favor of fat, stomping grooves, and simple, chunky riffs. The is metallic hardcore that doesn’t just worship the breakdown, it IS the breakdown. Throughout these 10 tracks, you’ll hear echoes of Terror, early Integrity, and even Power Trip‘s slower moments. The Power Trip comparison is furthered by a few fast, thrashy passages that—while still far from complex—at least offer some rhythmic variety, not to mention being more interesting than the band’s typical blunt riffing.
For an album that seems decent on the surface, it’s amazing how banal it really is. Initially, the huge groovy swagger of songs like “Buying Time” and “Cage of Fear” had me banging my head and admiring the sheer heft until I realized heft was about all they had going for them. These songs are virtually bereft of interesting riffs or anything more complex than a power chord. While I’m sure they would be absolutely devastating in a live setting, giving them repeated and focused listens on record reveals just how basic and barren they really are. There is no intent to do anything beyond offering muscular breakdowns, and even the effect of those is neutered by the strained, shouted vocals which sound like a million other hardcore bands. Other songs attempt to do more but don’t succeed. Opener “Lifesick 2.0” begins with crawling sludge riffs before jumping into some chugs, but those chugs feel prematurely truncated and thus leave the song feeling unfinished. Closer “A Million Steps Ahead” features a mirror image of the same problem, opening with chugs and closing with a sludgy section that feels underdeveloped and weak.
My biggest issue with Swept, however, is the lack of emotion. Initially the tag of “depressive thrash hardcore” made me believe this would be something like the emotionally devastating hardcore of Ruiner or More Than Life. Instead, while the vocalist sounds vaguely angsty, he lacks conviction and elicits no deep emotional response. While there are a few scattered moments of downcast melody and clean picking that make things feel a little darker than your typical hardcore, that’s nowhere near enough to warrant calling this “depressive.” Fortunately, the production accentuates the beefy guitars and makes the riffs feel big and powerful, even if the basic music is still likely to turn off most discerning ears.
Swept isn’t a total loss. “Suicide Spell” is built off an earwormy melodic riff that’s far more memorable than anything else here, while “Keep Me Under” wisely keeps things short and sweet with a battering, thrashy opening that collapses into a breakdown whose appearance actually feels earned. In fact, as a whole Swept is a brief and smartly constructed affair, with a 30-minute runtime that evenly spreads its better moments throughout. Closer “Serpent King, in particular, features a nice vocal hook and reigns as one of my favorite tracks. Sadly, most of these songs lack both hooks and memorable riffs, instead slinging around beefy grooves like a jock chucking dumbbells at the gym. If you’re looking for something superficially heavy, Lifesick is just what the doctor ordered. But for anyone who actually wants to listen to their music, you best turn your ears elsewhere.