I realize I use the phrase “ad nauseam” too much, and I also apologize a lot. I took two years of Latin in high school, which was pretty cool in ways I didn’t foresee. So you would think I would have the basic knowledge to tell you what “ad nauseam” means, but I had to Google it,1 only to be embarrassed by its obvious meaning: “to nausea” or “to a nauseating degree.” Just like deathcore!2 Sure, some scene kids got mad at their mom and threw their Suffocation and 7 Angels 7 Plagues CDs across the room and boom, deathcore.3 San Antonio, TX four-piece family Upon a Burning Body is historically another addition to groups like Whitechapel, Suicide Silence, Carnifex, and their fanboys who joined the Suffokate-ing scene ad nauseam. Founded in 2005, these Texans have dabbled with nu-metal and “missing members”4 before deciding it was high time to return to their roots.
Each subsequent album since their 2010 debut has been foiled by one gremlin or another, whether it be the loss of crucial members (Red. White. Green.), lack of adequate studio time (The World is My Enemy Now), or recovering from negative publicity (Straight from the Barrio). 2019’s Southern Hostility illustrates the purest attempt at reclaiming their 2010 sound. Gone are the paper-thin nu-metal attempts or the pretentious clean vocal focus in favor of a straightforward groove-infected deathcore album laced with southern badassery. The bone-crushing breakdowns hit hard and fast, Pantera-esqe riffs and solos scorch the eardrums, the vocals show the most diversity since their debut, the musicianship is tighter and more focused, and most importantly, Leal and company aren’t taking themselves too seriously.
Upon a Burning Body is clearly having a lot of fun with this album, and their music rises above the filler for it. The killer grooves and unrelenting energy of hard hitters like “King of Diamonds,” “From Darkness,” and “Reinventing Hatred” kick open the gates with shredding riffs and kickass vocals. Danny Leal returns to form in his diverse and charismatic vocal performance, utilizing brutal lows, grating highs, and a mid-range roar. Breakdowns5 can be a highlight in tracks like “Burn” and “The Anthem of the Doomed”6 and otherwise are used as emphasis, not focus. Ruben Alvarez’s solos are catchy and inject a fun-loving attitude to the crunchy sound. The southern-fried “From Darkness” makes good use of Phil Anselmo-esque clean vocals, while “Soul Searcher” uses subtle croons and melodic, almost Gothenburg, riffing to a powerful effect. Also, again, while former albums were bogged down by taking themselves too seriously, Southern Hostility is refreshing in its lightheartedness.
However, repetition is the downfall of Southern Hostility. While it is used well in the highlights, tracks such as “The Champ is Coming,” “Burn,” and “The Anthem of the Doomed” are exercises in cringy lyrics and nauseating repetition. Similarly, although the southern-inspired riffs at large are powerful, they can grow tiresome over the album’s runtime. While more “experimental” tracks like “From Darkness” and “Soul Searcher” succeed, the juxtaposition7 of too-loud clean vocals, somber attitude, and angry breakdowns of “Never Alone” seem more like an identity crisis. Final track and Marilyn Manson cover “Feed My Frankenstein” adds no consistency to the album, featuring jarringly different atmosphere and clean vocal focus. As a whole, the band has failed to recover since guitarist C.J. Johnson and drummer “Lord Cocos” Villareal left, leaving holes in the chaotic and punishing instrumentals they once had, and as is the case with Upon a Burning Body‘s catalog since 2010, Southern Hostility lives in the shadow of The World is Ours. Danny Leal’s vocals, while improved, do not have the vicious versatility, the rhythms and solos fail to touch upon its energy, and the freshness of its deathcore leanings has since faded.
Upon a Burning Body has succeeded in creating the second best album of the band’s career, which is both a triumph and a disappointment. Much as the majority of deathcore, these Texans don’t bring anything new to a
dying dead scene, and ultimately, Southern Hostility ends up being little more than really fun gym music. It’s an adrenaline-fueled romp full of Pantera-esque grooves and boundless core energy, but little else. There are pitfalls in its songwriting and repetitions, as it perpetuates stale deathcore ideas ad nauseam. However, it rarely overstays its welcome in 36 minutes of high energy beatdowns, so if you’re into this sort of thing, you shouldn’t have to apologize for putting it on your playlist.