Gravebloom will be the eighth studio album by The Acacia Strain, five guys from the Chicopee/Springfield Massachusetts area renowned for playing the most brutal music imaginable. The Acacia Strain have had a dizzying number of lineup changes with vocalist Vincent Bennett being the only constant member, yet their sound has stayed fairly constant since their sophomore album, 3750.
Deathcore bands have two big clichés surrounding them: one, they claim not to be deathcore; and two, reviewers praise their favourite ones for sounding “more death metal than ‘core” (seriously, Carnifex, Whitechapel, and the insufferably bad Thy Art Is Murder get this point of praise all the time), as if one needs to have an excuse for playing breakdowns. Vincent Bennett hates it when people call The Acacia Strain a deathcore band (though they seem to tour with the likes of Kublai Khan and Fit For An Autopsy), but their commitment to playing more hardcore than death metal sets them apart from deathcore bands.
The Acacia Strain generally live in a world where the breakdown is the song’s main motif, and the more metallic parts are distinguishing internal departures from that motif. They also use background dirge-drones played by the guitars to offset the generally deep chugginess of the main riffs. Gravebloom stays in this mode throughout its 11 songs and 48 minutes. They deliberately departed from 2014’s Coma Witch album by making Gravebloom as slow, sad, and mournful as possible. Coma Witch was at different moments aggressive, hateful, and ponderous; the sonic version of an angry mob and the confusion after a riot. Comparatively, Gravebloom evokes the sound of a solitary, desperate madman moaning in an alley, a man who will throw a bottle in the face of anyone who gets too close and asks him if he is OK.
The album starts out with “Worthless,” which sets the doleful tone right from the start. It has the familiar dissonant drone, all but unlistenable. The main riff has a clear hardcore quality to it, but vastly slowed down; it recalls the infamous B side to Black Flag’s My War album. It might be hard to hear this hardcore motif for all the chugging, but this sort of deliberate intertwining of disparate elements makes The Acacia Strain unique.
People who follow The Acacia Strain are already familiar with “Bitter Pill,” since they released that song back in March. The band played it at shows as far back as December. “Bitter Pill” is almost an anomaly on Gravebloom, having a faster pace, a more aggressive intro, and a more ‘metal’ feel than other tunes on the album.
“Big Sleep” was Gravebloom’s second single, released in April. It returns to the slower, more hardcore sound of “Worthless” and thus it showed what The Acacia Strain really intended Gravebloom to sound like. More than that, its deliberately confusing start-stop bridge makes it the album’s standout track.
That song gets followed by Gravebloom’s title track, in which the guitars initially refrain from filling in every second – we actually get to hear the bass at times. As the song progresses, the all-important droning dirge appears and plays until the bridge, only for the song to close out with an actual guitar solo (something rare for The Acacia Strain).
“Abyssal Depths” has the same general tenor of “Gravebloom,” as does “Dark Harvest.” “Model Citizen” is more on the aggressive and metallic side, similar to “Bitter Pill.”
Their Best One Yet?
It would be hard to pit one The Acacia Strain album against another, given the band’s commitment to their signature sound despite a series of lineup changes. Fans tend to pick 2010’s Wormwood as the best Acacia Strain album. That album certainly exceeded Coma Witch in quality, being more focused, more brutal, less ambitious, and less ponderous. Gravebloom has those qualities relative to Coma Witch too, but their quest to make a ‘sad’ album (a quest they accomplished) detracts from The Acacia Strain’s signature brutality. Moreover, Gravebloom lacks Wormwood’s rhythmic intricacy (there are parts of that album in which they sound more like Meshuggah than Meshuggah sometimes do).
That having been said, the brutality is still there. The solid hardcore foundation and use of droning elements set The Acacia Strain apart from those deathcore bands try to excuse themselves from that label by ‘being more metal than the others.’ Gravebloom is a disturbing work of misery.
FFO: Emmure, Oceano, Impending Doom, Meshuggah, Black Flag (one album by them; see above)
Notable Tracks: “Worthless”; “Gravebloom”; “Big Sleep”; “Abyssal Depths”