A great deal of modern metal has found its footing on the seemingly unimaginable middle ground between R&B/pop and varyingly heavy strains of -core. From bands like At The Skyline to Eidola to Issues, this combination has become increasingly popular. However, Ontario’s The Afterimage always delivered a unique take on this musical intersection, splicing together the dissonant mathcore of acts like The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza with the pop/soul infused vibes of groups like Dance Gavin Dance for some of my favourite progressive metal out of Canada. Their approach began to develop with the debut EP Formless in 2013 and gestated over a myriad of excellent singles that culminated in 2015’s Lumière, released through Tragic Hero Records. The group is finally delivering their debut full-length, Eve, on the same label on May 18. Do they continue to mine their unique mixture, or move into more predictable strains of metalcore?
“Aquamarine” introduces us to Eve with a mix of restrained guitars, cinematic drums, and the heavily manipulated vocals of Kyle Anderson. Though short, this piece acts as a callback to Lumière and is reminiscent of guitarist Michael Leo Valeri’s now quiet MKKY electronic project. It also begins the colour theme that is explored throughout the album on some track titles. The lead single follows after. “Cerulean” surprised me when I first heard it, as much of the song relies on more straightforward chugs/breakdowns than I’ve come to expect from the band’s generally frenetic technicality. However, the song continues to evolve as it plays out, introducing both Anderson’s signature soaring vocals and increasingly intricate guitar performances.
I imagine that some old fans of The Afterimage may walk away from Eve saying that the band has lost their spark of originality in place of a more accessible sound. There is more to be heard though. An attentive listening will show that the quintet have retained many of their unique ideas, but streamlined them into a more cohesive, palatable whole. “Amethyst” is exemplary of this, starting with a seemingly straightforward but deceptively complex groove before gradually introducing creative tapping that flows seamlessly into the catchiest chorus on the record. “Secrets” is a similar success, perhaps being the best illustration on the record of the band finding more mature, mainstream footing without kicking away their earlier mathcore/pop roots.
The Afterimage tends to avoid monotony by giving each of the eleven songs on Eve a unique element. It is not to say, however, that every track on Eve is a winner; their two attempts at balladry often fall into irrevocably cheesy territory. “Mirrors” has some pretty awesome elements, including an anthemic chorus with excellent lead guitar. Unfortunately, the quiet verses are an ill-suited marriage between minimalist clean guitars and well-intentioned but melodramatic lines like ‘I don’t like being alone at night/This darkness reminds me of myself’. The main misstep in this softer direction is the album’s title track – its underdeveloped length, meandering vocals and spoken word conversation between a somewhat entitled sounding male ex-partner and a concerned, but self-aware woman seem at best unnecessary and, at most, problematic. Where I imagine the piece is meant to be a palette cleanser of sorts, the interlude instead serves to distract the listener from an otherwise enjoyable experience. This is especially disappointing considering that “Eve” is both the title track and midpoint of the record.
Thankfully, tracks like “Wrath” and closer “Violator” deliver on the heaviness that The Afterimage excels at. On “Wrath”, intermittent blast beats, low growls and guitars that dart between downtuned breakdowns, deft and dissonant tapping, and occasional melodicism are reminiscent of the group’s earlier material. Both songs still maintain Anderson’s incredible clean vocals and the occasional electronic flourishes.
Eve is not the full-length I had hoped for from The Afterimage, but there is much to be said about judging new output on its own merits instead of in comparison to its predecessors. Eve is a slick, catchy progressive metalcore record that succeeds where many of its counterparts stumble. It ensures that each track earns its spot on the record by offering something distinct. Though there are some missteps and unfortunate departures here and there, Eve is a progressive metalcore record that establishes The Afterimage as about as capable as anyone else in the scene.
Notable Tracks: “Amethyst”; “Secrets”; “Wrath”
FFO: The Northern, Currents