Years ago, I read a description of saxophonist Albert Ayler‘s music as being a total love-hate proposition: you’re either immediately blown away (no pun intended), or it sends you right out of the room. The same could be said about deathcore, a metal subgenre that so thoroughly alienates metalheads over the age of 25 that it’s almost funny. As its name implies, deathcore takes death metal and hardcore as aesthetic starting points, but freely tosses in Gothic keyboards, rhythms and sometimes vocal delivery that’s clearly informed by hip-hop, almost subsonic levels of bass, and the detuned guitars of nü-metal. Deathcore riffs, as heard on albums by bands like Emmure, Chelsea Grin, and Attila, are so low and staccato they’re like the sound of a huge earth-moving machine shifting gears as it climbs a hill. The vocals, meanwhile, range from tough-guy barking to high-pitched screams to positively inhuman “pig squeal”/malfunctioning-toilet sounds. It’s a genre virtually designed to polarize listeners, and it does so quite admirably. Some groups—Whitechapel and Job for a Cowboy most notable among them—have managed to “graduate” to the death metal “mainstream,” meaning they’re occasionally reviewed with the respect their songwriting skill merits, rather than being scornfully dismissed out of hand as “Hot Topic posers” by self-anointed “elitists.” But for the most part, deathcore is metal’s ghetto, and to admit you like it is to admit you have a taste for life’s cruder pleasures. Well, I like it a lot. Attila‘s About That Life is likely to be one of my top ten albums of 2013, and every one of Emmure‘s last three albums has been brilliant, taken on their own terms.
Conjonctive are a Swiss deathcore band with two vocalists—one male (Randy), one female (Sonia). Their third album, Until the Whole World Dies…, was released this week. Their sound is fairly by-the-numbers. The guitar riffs (Raph and Yannick) are distorted, mechanistic and grinding, like huge gears crushing girders in their jaws, except when it’s time for the solos, which are a mass of squeals and repetitive flurries of high-pitched notes. The bass (Clyves) is a distant rumble. The drumming (Manu) is so taut it’s almost certainly snapped to a Protools grid, if not entirely programmed. What separates Conjonctive from a thousand other bands slinging seven-string guitars, though, is their ability to maintain a balance between sonic devastation—which, when it becomes a goal in itself, can easily result in monotony and tedium—and relative hookiness. Sonia‘s vocals are crucial in this regard. Her delivery (in English and occasionally French) encompasses a rough growl reminiscent of Arch Enemy‘s Angela Gossow and a clean, almost sweet singing voice that offers melody without surrendering to un-metal vulnerability. Randy, in the meantime, can do gurgles and pig squeals as easily as a guttural/demonic death metal roar. The combination of their two voices gives the songs a layer of drama most deathcore bands lack. And her sudden interjection of “Holy shit!” in the middle of “Victoria’s Lake” is surprising, and funny.
Of course, the instrumentalists hold their own, too. Songs speed up and slow down with relentless efficiency, and riffs that recall classic thrash, technical death metal, and even industrial pop up, as though to appease older listeners and prove that these kids “know their history.” As if they need to bow to a previous generation’s—my generation’s—aesthetics. If old bands could write songs as awesomely headbang-worthy as “Prayer for Redemption” or “Victoria’s Lake” or “Somnambulant Cannibal,” they wouldn’t need to worry about youngsters coming up behind them. Deathcore isn’t going anywhere, and that’s a good thing.
Stream “Somnambulant Cannibal” on Bandcamp: