The Acacia Strain – Step Into the Light Review

The Acacia Strain has had an interesting career.1 While their breed of hardcore-tinged deathcore rattled skulls throughout the 2000s with albums like Continent and The Dead Walk, 2014’s Coma Witch  and closing track “Observer” changed everything. Showcasing capabilities beyond down-tuned “djunz” and edgy lyrics, it set the path forward with purpose and prowess. 2019 and 2020 saw two albums that capitalized upon this potential: the strangely subtle It Comes in Waves and the unbelievably massive Slow Decay. While The Acacia Strain still offers grimy deathcore breakdowns aplenty to remind listeners of their brutal origins, they’re capable of more. What does 2023 offer?

One of two albums released simultaneously, Step Into the Light is more traditionally -core, channeling Slow Decay’s penchant for slow and sludgy deathcore weight with the immediacy that recalls last year’s Dr. Acula.2 It’s what you expect from The Acacia Strain, sans the longwinded quality: down-tuned riffs, Vincent Bennett’s pissed-off roars, and sharp percussion that slices through the muck. However, Step Into the Light features sprinkles of grind influence and ambient textures alongside its sticky chugs. The result is still very much The Acacia Strain, love it or hate it – but definitely this side of good.

Bone-crushing heaviness has never been more of a priority, with thick riffs and thunderous percussion dominating. The Acacia Strain is still doing The Acacia Strain things, as opener “Flourishing” would like to remind; Step Into the Light is a hardcore record funneled through the density of deathcore, with pummeling punk beats giving way to downtempo beatdowns in the vein of Gideon or Kublai Khan. What always made The Acacia Strain unique, however, is their interpretation of grimy and dense hardcore intensity with just enough tricks to rise above the grind. “Sinkhole,” featuring Josef Alonso of Bay Area hardcore act Sunami, contains complex beats and Alonso’s call-out barks that morph into the most crushing breakdown of the album. “Chain” features noisy ambiance atop the downtuned slog, allowing Chamber’s Jacob Lilly to shine with harrowing shrieks, while the Fit for an Autopsy-esque devastation of “Is This Really Happening?” hits like a skidding semi-truck. Never overstaying its welcome, the beatdown tracks are interspersed with tasteful hardcore or powerviolence blasters like “Calf’s Blood” or “Teeth of the Cursed Dog,” which rely on punky rhythms and blastbeats, giving further emphasis to the knuckle-draggers. The guitar tone is the star of the show, as it channels caustic sludge in its density but does not take away from the tempo that guides the massiveness – unfazed by a pulverizing drum presence that cuts through the mire.

Step Into the Light is a distilled version of Slow Decay. Everything is briefer and more condensed, and while its closers “Untended Graves” and “None of Us Asked to Be Here” feel like Slow Decay b-sides, the album as a whole lacks the mammoth grandiosity, seen in tracks like “Seeing God” or “I breathed in the smoke…” The Acacia Strain has split their identity for this album and its counterpart. Sporting more hardcore influence than ever before, Step Into the Light emphasizes -core punishment: tracks like “Flourishing,” “Untended Graves” and “Open Wound” are meat-headed to the fullest capacity, knuckle-dragging grooves dominating their brief runtimes. In a frustrating way, tracks like “Teeth of the Cursed Dog” and “Fresh Bones” can feel like letdowns, as epic builds are met with anticlimactic chugs.

These complaints are small potatoes compared to the brevity and density that courses through Step Into the Light. Hitting with the immediacy of grind and the devastation of deathcore, with hardcore and sludge tossed in for good measure, The Acacia Strain has created an album that capitalizes on its grimy and primal trademark. Step Into the Light retains that certain je ne sais quois that gives the act their longevity, but condensed into a far more reasonable twenty-four minutes. That being said, it still is very much The Acacia Strain, with everything you love or hate, but smartly composed and never overstaying its welcome in its savage brutality and juicy thickness. While it embodies the hardcore browbeating you’ve come to know, its counterpart Failure Will Follow offers an apocalypse of a different tome.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: N/A | Format Reviewed: Stream
Label: Rise Records
Websites: Website | Facebook | Bandcamp
Releases Worldwide: May 12th, 2023

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Including an ancient curb-stomping from the Head Honcho Himself ’round these parts.
  2. Ten songs, twenty-four minutes.
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