Signs of the Swarm – Absolvere Review

If any band has cursed history, it’s Signs of the Swarm. Seemingly the hub of the most garbage human beings in the history of deathcore, more allegations plague these Pittsburgh natives than breakdowns. Sexual assault allegations beleaguer former vocalist CJ McCreery and former bassist Jacob Toy, while physical abuse accusations mar former guitarist Cory Smarsh. Smartly, the group has distanced itself from these individuals, showing integrity in spite of its streak of scumbags. Continuing as a trio, Absolvere is no step down in brutality, energy, or most importantly, quality.

The days of dime-a-dozen breakdown-centric acts seem to have diminished over the last five years. Lorna Shore, Shadow of Intent, and Mental Cruelty offer some of the hardest-hitting deathcore of 2021, and Signs of the Swarm is also attempting to join these ranks. It’s clear that vocalist David Simonich channels Will Ramos’ performance in Lorna Shore’s “To the Hellfire,” dwelling on devastating bellows, sinister shrieks, and a formidable roar that moves with fluid ease. A further departure from the technical and slam proclivities of The Disfigurement of Existence in favor of a more balanced approach, Absolvere revolves around absolutely bonkers riffs punctuated by crushing breakdowns. Relatively straightforward, Absolvere sees Signs of the Swarm setting out on its own redemption arc, even if it is marred by the same old deathcore pitfalls.

It’s not 2006 anymore, so the snail-crawlin,’ crab-dancin,’ pig-squealin’ breakdowns of yesteryears will simply not cut it. That being said, I would love to say that Absolvere signals the advent of a new breed of non-blackened deathcore, but Signs of the Swarm plays it close to the vest in a solid, if not predictable, deathcore affair with fantastic vocals and brutal tones aplenty. Balancing crisp riffs and brutal chugs while avoiding the trench of gurgling mediocrity, the best tracks in “Hymns ov Invocation,” “Dreaming Desecration,” and “Death Whistle” feel like a journey, with passages of dissonance and melody providing hills and valleys. “Boundless Manifestations” and “Revelations ov a Silent King” balance their downtuned slogs with a shuddering quality that feels genuinely madness-inducing. Despised Icon vocalist Alex Erian makes a lovely appearance in “Hollow Prison,” gracing a hardcore-esque clarity and climax amid the chugging brutality. Overall, while deathcore can feel like a moshpit traveling through swampy territories, there’s something remarkably clean about Absolvere. Never forsaking twitching tones throughout, guitarist Jeff Russo trades downtuned chug for crazy riff for solo for technical lead with seamless precision, while drummer Bobby Crow is never lost in the mix, and attacks the kit with plodding rhythms and relentless blastbeats.

As much as I would love to say that Absolvere challenges deathcore stereotypes, Signs of the Swarm simply maneuvers them with grace and professionalism. As such, breakdowns remain a blessing and a curse, elevating tracks like “Nameless” while bogging down those like “Totem.” When they do their best Chelsea Grin impression in “Blood Seal” (featuring a solid performance from Ben Duerr of Shadow of Intent) or “Revelations ov a Silent King,” it warrants an eye-roll. Although dark atmosphere keeps these tracks treading water, they feel too similar to acts like Mire Lore or early Black Tongue. Likewise, “Totem” feels too stitched together and abruptly shifty to make the impact it very clearly wants to. Also, “Hollow Prison” achieves aptly climactic clarity thanks to Alex Erian’s feature, but it calls into question why Signs of the Swarm wasn’t able to accomplish that on their own. Absolvere ultimately dwells in the realm of adrenaline-pumping deathcore, and while accomplished with professionalism, its whole greater than the sum of its three parts, it may overstay its welcome in any setting but the gym.

Absolvere’s title is apt: to absolve, to set something free of blame or guilt. It is in many ways Signs of the Swarm’s message that they can wash their hands of the scum of the metalverse and come out the other side all the better for it. Their PR has been expertly handled in maneuvering the landmines of alleged rapists and abusers, and their decision to go forward as a trio is a dicey move that ultimately pays off. While their fourth full-length by no means reinvents the genre, it’s nonetheless a solid homage to its heyday without excessive indulgence. Yes, the ultimate goal is still to get your brain playing racquetball inside your skull, but it’s done in a tasteful and clean fashion with highlights from all players. Absolvere is absolution that kicks you while you’re down, and you’ll be okay with it.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 4 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Unique Leader Records
Releases Worldwide: September 24th, 2021

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