Review: The Acacia Strain Brings Unbridled Mayhem with Step Into The Light
With the 2019 release of It Comes In Waves and Slow Decay a year later, The Acacia Strain began its own multiverse of madness. In one timeline, It Comes In Waves transformed the Massachusetts deathcore heavyweights into an atmospheric juggernaut of blackened doom. In the other, Slow Decay stripped the band back to its most primal hardcore machinations. Both realities benefit from great music, but once the split begins, there’s no turning back. At least that’s what it seems like with The Acacia Strain’s two new releases. Step Into The Light and Failure Will Follow further the band’s new stylistic divide. The former album revels in the band’s most vicious take on metallic hardcore, while the latter plunges head over heels into the deafening maw of sludge and doom.
This is a review of Step Into The Light. Click here to read our thoughts on Failure Will Follow.
There’s nothing quite like a slamming beatdown riff to start a heavy hardcore album, and that’s exactly how “Flourishing” begins. Between this and the primitive punk rhythms, Step Into The Light absolutely nails the No Zodiac school of groovy, ball-busting hardcore. The fact it transitions to “Calf’s Blood” after under a minute and a half says a lot, but that next track covers twice as much ground with just 20 seconds more. It’s not exactly power-violence, but it’s right at that line with its unpredictable tempo changes and no-frills riffage. It definitely helps having a powerhouse frontman like Vincent Bennett to bring that time-tested anger to drive guitarists Mike Mulholland and Devin Shidaker through the gaits of hateful abandon.
If singles “Chain” and “Fresh Bones” prove anything, it’s that The Acacia Strain is committed to twisting the knife in new ways… or at least, in ways that fall in line with the modern state of the underground. The former does a fantastic job of balancing the hammering grind of a band like Nails with the downtempo chug riffs The Acacia Strain pioneered during their initial run. The latter becoming the first track to pass two minutes says a lot about the album’s frantic pace, careening from pulverising blast beats to lumbering chug-a-chug fight riffs. In this way The Acacia Strain could be compared to Chamber (the vocalist of which features in “Chain”) or End as easily as the deathcore trailblazers of yesteryear, with a great balance of raw intensity and tight execution.
The Acacia Strain always had a noticeable penchant for violence in their circle of bands, with parts seemingly written with the soul purpose of turning mosh pits into killing fields. The closed-hi-hat thuggery and mid-tempo moodiness of “Teeth of the Cursed Dog” definitely lead themselves to hate-mosh ignorance, but not without tasteful tempo shifts to accelerate the brutality. “Is This Really Happening” achieves a similar effect, ending with an absolutely life-ending caveman slam (Griffin Landa’s bass tone… that is all). These guys know exactly when and where to get completely ignorant, but never at the expense of great songs.
Deeper cuts like “Open Wound” benefit from that Gojira approach to complex guitar work, in that they’re still incredibly groovy. Drummer Kevin Boutot should get a lot of credit for kicking the guitarists from slithering leads to the bone-crunching half-time, but it’s also cool how Bennett waits to bust out tunnel throat screams until this track picks up. As animalistic as they can get, none of these tracks feel out of place. They also don’t overstay their welcome, allowing “Untended Graves” to get in and out fast and furious while still leaving room for an eerie buildup before the final beatdown. Even as the faster parts fall closer to the norm for heavy hardcore, the band’s energy and attention to detail keeps the band away from killing time before the mosh parts. Said mosh parts certainly hit, but the chord progressions and galloping skank beats being comparable energy.
Step Into The Light remains intent on getting straight to the point, but also throws two noticeable curveballs—which also happen to be the album’s longest songs (three whole minutes! Can you believe it?). In the case of “Sinkhole,” results sandwich straight ahead hardcore featuring the unfiltered shouts of Sunami’s Josef Alfonso in dark, menacing sludge. By letting the aura breathe a bit, Bennett’s more emotive side gets a chance to shine without losing the toughness. It also allows the knuckle-dragging repetitions of closer “None of Us Asked to be Here” to hint at doom metal within the concussive percussion and violent riff changes.
For all its morsels of malicious inspiration, Step Into The Light remains a metallic hardcore album through and through. What festers in its sister album may be a more unprecedented shift, but this thing may be a contender for some of The Acacia Strain’s most ferocious, dangerous music to date.
Multiverse theories aside, any state of consciousness with two Strains of Acacia to enjoy is a state worth staying in. Click here to read our thoughts on read our thoughts on Failure Will Follow.
The Acacia Strain’s Step Into The Light comes out on May 12 and is available for preorder via Rise Records.