Nostalgia is a dragon that almost always eludes our grasp, because we’ve grown and the things we used to love are still essentially the same. While some things like Super Mario 64 will never lose their appeal, others will. So it was with Nothing Lies Beyond, a band so sonically entrenched in the days of 2005-2009 that I was basically transported back to my high school years. The amount that didn’t hold up for me was shocking: my awful hairstyle choices, getting older people to buy me booze, atheism, wearing band tees all the time, eating Baconators more than once a year, and not having a car, to name a few. So while I would’ve doubtlessly enjoyed Fragile Reality had it been released in 2005, that’s not the question at hand. What you and I care about is whether or not I enjoy it in 2016.
According to a lengthy press release, Nothing Lies Beyond sounds like early 90s Gothenburg material. I chock this error up to the fact that I still think ten years ago refers to the 90s, so perhaps they did too; this is exactly the type of core-tinged melo-death that was huge in the mid-late aughts. It’s like a slightly more melodious version of At the Throne of Judgment, and I’m even reminded of As I Lay Dying’s magnum opus An Ocean between Us. For those who didn’t listen to that stuff or go to high school at the same time as me, think of a core-ified In Flames, Dark Tranquility, and Nightrage, a Gothenburger marinated in the sauces of modern metal and 2000s core. Fragile Reality is slick, calculated, and executed with the utmost precision.
This precision generally works. “Lost” is a good mix of In Flames, Dark Tranquility and tinges of melodic metalcore, wasting none of its four minutes and just being a good, entertaining song. There’s even a nice acoustic interlude that reminds me of Whoracle, and it leads surprisingly well into a reprise of the chorus. “Another Place” is an enjoyable track with a catchy and unthreatening verse that leads into a sugary chorus that’s difficult to shake once you’ve heard it. “Fading behind False Eyes” is essentially Core-acle, and I think if In Flames sounded more like this people would be a lot less upset with their direction, as this is far from lugubrious. These songs are uniformly tight, melodic, concise, and catchy, which seems to be exactly what the band were going for. They succeeded in this regard, and in turn it makes for an enjoyable listen in a certain sense.
Where Nothing Lies Beyond becomes a bit less enjoyable is in the sense that they never hit it out of the park like their influences did. There’s nothing as gorgeous as “Dialogue with the Stars” here, Nightrage’s “Shed the Blood” isn’t matched in sheer energy, there aren’t any excellent Stanne style clean vocals nor anything as perfectly melancholy as “In My Absence” either. What we’re given instead is a bunch of competent, well-executed, catchy but not irresistible melo-death informed by the melodic metalcore that borrowed liberally from the Gothenburg style. There’s nothing wrong with it, as apart from ineffective intro “Redemption” everything is enjoyable. “We are the Revolution” is the worst proper track by a small margin, and while it’s silly in the Arch Enemy Revolution-chic way, I find it more enjoyable than the majority of the former’s stuff. It also largely jettisons heaviness for hard rock on steroids flair and an eventual melodic chugging breakdown (remember those?), and ends up being charming in the “I remember this from the mid-to-late-aughts” sense. The production reminds of that bygone time as well, being loud, clean, and clear, having that high-gain bass tone that causes it to pop up pretty frequently in the mix, and the vocals clear and high in volume.
I like Fragile Reality because it’s a record I could listen to with friends back home while drinking whiskey and reminiscing about the past. It’s nice to remember the simplicity of bygone times, when any death metal that was pretty melodic was consumed en masse and enjoyed, put on a 32GB MP3 player to come up on shuffle while we played Super Smash Bros: Melee. Recently I encountered Helltrain’s Route 666 and Torture Killer’s Swarm again, and they brought back happy memories of those olden days, and I got a similar feeling listening to Nothing Lies Beyond. Much like I couldn’t force any of you to smile and reminisce about my childhood home if you looked at pictures of it with me, I can’t recommend Fragile Reality based on my nostalgia alone. If you don’t share my fond memories of listening to this stuff when it was all the rage you’ll probably be entertained, but you won’t be enthralled.