According to vocalist Tyler Smith, the new effort from Phoenix, Arizona-based metalcore outfit The Word Alive, is considered by the band to be the “most dynamic and expansive album to date”, apparently due to desires from the various members to ‘define and express’ who they are, both individually and as a collective. Good stuff. However, alarm bells sound pretty much instantaneously after reading such profound statements from metalcore bands, which has been, at least for the past decade or so, in danger of growing extremely stale indeed. So I was pleasantly surprised with Dark Matter, which I’ll say with confidence is one of the most innovative and inspiring releases offered to and from the metalcore scene in recent years.
The opener, Dreamer, wastes no time in assuring us that what The Word Alive have to say is worth bothering to listening to. Dreamy (no other applicable word, sorry) synths and ephemeral drum sequences pave the way for a soaring, genuinely memorable gateway for the album, and immediately spark interest in what this American quintet has to say. The lyrics are nothing special, and are a little contrived, but are nonetheless pleasantly interpersonal, offering some intimate glances into the lives of the members – but what’s important about Dark Matter is that it offers some respite from the deluge of metalcore/technical metal currently making the rounds, and that’s admirable in of itself.
As Dark Matter progresses with its punishing rhythms and abrasive instrumentation, we’re introduced to tracks like Sellout and Face to Face, which make clear the comparisons to other similar bands of the genre such as letlive., Beartooth, and Architects, which is not at all a bad thing. Sellout itself is arguably one of Dark Matter‘s finest tracks, showcasing the band’s ability to frequently switch between fist-pumping verses, time signature changes, and breakdowns, and passages of harmony and clean guitar. The video straight up fucking sucks, adding another contribution to the inundation of videos interspersed with grainy news clips of riots and civil unrest around the world, drenched in the overly familiar “What if, like, the government, man! Wake up!” narrative we’re apparently so fond of, but I can’t fault the band on that, and the track is solid, cementing the consistency of the album.
However, there are moments where Dark Matter does slow down quite drastically. Thankfully, it doesn’t quite grind to a shuddering halt where all momentum and energy shuts down like other albums of the genre, but tracks such as Branded and Piece of Me do definitely feel like a lull in the flow of the album’s dynamic. They’re not quite filler, but somewhat of a detriment to the band’s aforementioned message – maybe it’s down to the other tracks on Dark Matter being so excellent. Even the female vocals on Piece of Me (and Oxy, another superb track) save it from being a total throwaway, especially as it reminds me of Alone With You by Fallujah, from The Flesh Prevails. And that album is flawless.
Another one of the (albeit rare) problems I had with Dark Matter is that, though by and large, it is a musically accomplished and impressive piece, there is a definite lack of lead guitar running through the album. Maybe as a guitarist myself I am biased, but I believe that a metalcore album, no matter how average or unimaginative, should bear some semblance of relatively intricate guitar work that sets itself apart from the rhythm section. Admittedly, there are brief glimpses into the potential skill of guitarists of Zack Hansen and Tony Pizzuti, such as a couple of minutes on Insane and the introduction of Trapped, but for the most part, it’s fairly none existent. Quite disappointing from such a hyped and revered album from an equally as admired group.
However, what Dark Matter lacks in technical innovation it more than makes up for in atmosphere; The Word Alive have been careful to not overdo it, but the album is rich with drum samples and programming, complemented perfectly by the synths, strings, and keys that bring an unparalleled degree of richness to each and every song, especially the incredible opener Dreamer and equally as towering closer Oxy. It’s by no means the perfect metalcore album (sorry lads, Avenged Sevenfold claimed that in 2003 with Waking the Fallen) but it’s certainly a welcome paradigm shift in what the genre has currently has to offer. Good work.
The Word Alive mix synths, soaring vocals, and crushing breakdowns in an effort to revitalize a stagnant genre. For the most part, they succeed.