When my first exposure to The Hate Colony‘s debut Dead or Victorious elicited thoughts of a Lamb of God-turned-metalcore, the title of their new album made much more sense. Ascending? “Descending?” Right? Wrong. The Norwegians dropped that shit the second they got their hands on a Soilwork CD. With grooves suddenly sporting melodic textures, 2014’s Navigate offered an alternate take on metalcore, one with some halfway decent ideas buried under all the bleeding knuckles and douchey band pictures. THC have yet to sort out the photo issue,1 but Ascending expands on the potential of Navigate by focusing on something every genre but metalcore seems to get: it’s the riffs, stupid.
The welcoming slams of “Ghost of Damnation” thunder through hollow expectations of limp-wristed metalcore offering with a jaw-shifting snap. Core-styled noodles, staccato rhythms and some modest 808s ensure that the track will never pass anything but metalcore. However, as slickly produced and occasionally tepid the result, drawing a metal distinction between this and, say, Natural Born Chaos-era Soilwork is not as easy as it seems. “Storyteller” does it right. THC cut its effects-laden intro to a bare minimum and instead devote the time to unfurling the best riff on the record. Magnetic and full of modern melodeath panache, the riff develops at a deliberate pace before falling lockstep with a beefy vocal hook. “The Collector” follows suit, taking basic slam rhythms and sprucing them up with leads rooted in easy-listening Soilwork tropes and a bit of synth noodling. From “Monsoon” to “Embrace Silence” to “Egocentric,” Ascending punches above its weight by letting the riffs shine. It’s a testament to what THC have done right over their career.
Unfortunately, that testament doesn’t include much growth. Besides the heavy post-production, THC play a hand devoid of risk or exploration. The charisma inherent in their riffs helps create a sense of identity, but even better tracks struggle to get heads moving. Like all the slickly produced 2.5-worthy records released around melodic camps recently, Ascending manage passable melodies and A-OK riffs. But under the veneer of the snarling guitars and Lord Mordor’s stagnant fries lies a record as stock in construction and execution as it comes. Songs simply lack the element of surprise. While some elements – specifically the electronic influence – may be new to THC as a band, the record neatly conforms to what you expect to hear, when you expect to hear it. Songs succeed in isolated moments of glory – typically one or two riffs per moments per track, if that. In the absence of those moments, sloggers like “Ashes” and Lamb of God-holdover “Dead Man Walking” end up outright boring. Tired metalcore tropes rear their ugly head too often, with each breakdown and drop denigrating the riff further. Lord Mordor helps Ascending stand out somewhat, trading in meaningless cleans for a collection of harsh vocals that thankfully put a level of brutality into the mix. The superficial lyrical cliches of “Ashes” cannot be excused, but by and large his vocals help more than hinder.
The big twist comes from THC‘s liberal application of the same bleeps and bloops that you might expect from a Mechina or Sunless Rise album. They co-opt the guitars’ lead melodies and push an album already rife with slick tones into pre-packaged territory. El Nigardo’s drum beats in particular have a computerized aura about them, though the entire record touches that particular vibe. Guitarists T-Bag Joe and Big Truck2 do their best to dispel this feeling, recalling Chariots of the Gods‘ Mathieu-Phillipe St-Amour’s brand of melodic metalcore in the solos. They establish themselves firmly within the confines of their record but simply cannot elevate the record as needed to attract fans outside of the genre faithful. However, the duo lack St-Amour’s ability to elevate solid riffs into head-turners just by touching them, but hey, pobody’s nerfect.
Informing a fellow writer that I initially dug a metalcore promo was embarrassing enough. Retracting my statement due to a lack of staying power bites the big one. Any promo sheet employing the word “thug” should raise more red flags than my lonely, drunken Friday night with Minesweeper. The Hate Colony should do enough to raise eyebrows among the shameful few (you know who you are) that still indulge in this sort of thing, but Ascending will not appeal to a broader (read: trver) audience without an elevation of The Hate Colony‘s game.