Gather ‘round, friends, I’ve got a new group for everyone to check out, they’re called Sortout. They’re Austrian. They’re metal. They’ve got shouts. They’re angry about something. They have a band motto!1 And now, take a quick look at that cover art and confirm what you already knew to be true: today, I bring you metalcore. Ordinarily, I don’t go for the genre, but it’s one I’m open to regardless; catchy cleans and angry shouting are some of the things I got into metal for in the first place, and sometimes you need something quick, angry, and angsty to get you through a particularly rage-inducing week2. This one is Conquer From Within, and it’s Sortout’s sophomore album, following a four-year gap from their debut full-length, Burden of Memories.
For the first fifteen seconds or so of “Undertow,” the introductory track, I found myself unimpressed. Instantly, Benjamin Herter’s throaty shouts overwhelm the listener atop furious chugging from guitarists Michael Geuze and Aaron Schedler and extra-furious drumming from André Hammerer. Günter Meusburger’s bass is nowhere to be found, and the channel of frustration and anger is overwhelming. It’s exactly what I didn’t want to expect: metalcore clichés abound, little more than poorly-channeled rage that serves seemingly no purpose. And then, as quickly as it came, it was gone — one of the guitarists began playing a hypnotic lead melody, and Herter began singing. His voice is low, and very underproduced for the style. Suddenly, there was balance, and I found myself nodding along with the song, and recalling its chorus while I wasn’t listening. While Conquer From Within does have the tendency to go a little bit far with its angrier, more hardcore passages, it’s often offset by memorable leads and a good vocal performance that brings a positive sense of unpredictability to the mix. So now that my leap to judgement has been blown away, is Conquer From Within the record to bring me around to metalcore at long last?
No — but it has me edging closer. Its best songs maintain the aforementioned balance of melodic leads and aggressive hardcore leanings. “Illusions” is a great example of the Sortout formula executed well; the leads throughout the song are piercing, a touch melancholy, and a great complement to Herter’s cleans. The rapid-fire riffing coupled with hardcore shouts would ordinarily make for a frustratingly generic listen; instead, they act as an energetic build-up to the song’s emotional peaks, and it really, really works. “Sever the Serpent’s Tongue” strikes a similar balance, as does “Midas’ Gift.” In these songs, you hear a lot of energetic, memorable music that’s really refreshing to this reviewer’s ears.
Unfortunately, I can’t muster the same excitement for the rest of the record. Sortout do a lot of good work on Conquer From Within, but for all of that, the songs do tend to blur together, excepting the ones mentioned already. “Blind Eyes” feels generic, with the production on the cleans being amped up noticeably, while the riffing never really goes anywhere interesting. I can’t help but feel I’ve heard a lot of this album before. Even more unfortunate, while Herter brings some much-needed diversity to his vocal lines by incorporating cleans, his shouting is pretty atonal, and lacks variation. So much of Conquer From Within is filled with what feels like the same guitar chugs drowned out by the same shouts time and time again. This, unfortunately, means that a lot of the album winds up being forgettable, lacking the impact of its best songs. There is a huge difference in quality between the album’s best songs and its most forgettable ones, leaving me feeling inconclusive about Conquer From Within as a whole.
Still, I’m not prepared to write Sortout off, and I can certainly see myself returning to a number of the songs on Conquer From Within, which is more than I say for a lot of metalcore. If I’m honest, I think my final numeric rating might even be a bit harsh — the difference in quality between songs like “Illusions” and “Monuments” just makes the ride through the album too bumpy for my preferences, but it also shows that Sortout has good talent and a good affinity for their music. I remain optimistic, and will look forward to their next release.