(Even More) Deathcore That Doesn’t Suck
If you're here, I'm sorry. We're talking about -- and listening to -- deathcore in this article. Most deathcore, especially today, is annoyingly bad copypasta from a handful of easily confusable yet nonetheless separate bands. But no subgenre of metal is terrible through-and-through; in fact, you could make the case that the worse the subgenre overall, or the less that you actually enjoy it, the better its gems will be, at least in comparative terms. Now, these three albums below will not suddenly transform you into a deathcore fan, so don't worry. They might, however, showcase the complexity and artistry which was (and still is) happening behind the headlines, so to speak. While other bands were simply trying to get blitzed and write the heaviest breakdowns possible, with no regard for anything else really, these three saw the breakdown as a means to an end, not the end goal itself.
In the inaugural edition of this column, I explained deathcore as a vehicle for the breakdown, and the breakdown as something inherently physical and addictive. The same goes for these three albums here, and like the others I've featured in this series, they bridge somewhat to the less-derided technical death metal realm. This means that, sort-of counterintuitively, these deathcore albums are less about breakdowns than others in the subgenre. In my mind though, this only increases the impact, viability, and core essence of the breakdown itself: using it to make a powerful artistic statement, not just as an easy way to sell more trendy merch and get people to beat the shit out of each other in the pit wearing said merch. And while there is such thing as "marketable but still good" deathcore, like Rings of Saturn's Lugal Ki En, those albums tend to still miss the point of being actually different rather than just offering differing variations on a genre-provided framework.
Anyway, enough mentalizing about deathcore. It's a silly subgenre anyway, and honestly, I spend only a small fraction of my time with it anymore despite it being (alongside metalcore) my inroad to the metal world. Let's just get heavy with these three wonderful albums and say "fuck it" while smashing our heads into whatever's directly in front of us.
Circle of Contempt -- Artifacts in Motion
November 23rd, 2009
You might have heard of the term Sumeriancore: basically, the label Sumerian Records released a ton of high-quality deathcore and early djent between their founding in 2006 and, say, the early 2010s when those subgenres really started to get super-stale. And while you could easily make the argument that deathcore and djent have always been stale, some early Sumerian releases will forever be the counterargument that the heyday was something worth being a part of. Born of Osiris' debut EP from 2007 is one of those albums (which I covered in the prior installment of this column), and Circle of Contempt's Artifacts in Motion is another. As this Finnish band's debut full-length, it showcased considerable mechanical and artistic talent alongside helping define that ever-popularizing Sumeriancore mold… down the road, now, Artifacts in Motion might be downright the best (and best preserved) microcosm of the label's entire repertoire from a decade ago.
Sumerian releases a ton of hilariously abysmal rubbish now, and that's fine, because albums like Artifacts in Motion retain their modernity and style despite not arriving long after the very first iPhone. One important distinction this album made -- and thereby proving a point for the whole subgenre -- is that deathcore breakdowns don't need to be so obvious all the damn time. Circle of Contempt used the breakdown as more of a songwriting tool rather than diversion or embellishment, neutering the mindlessly heavy impact of breakdowns but, importantly, making them far more interesting, angular, and unpredictable. Circle of Contempt would go on to release another album with Sumerian in 2012 called Entwine the Threads, but I vastly prefer this earlier look into grittier and less melody-conscious deathcore that ended up becoming much harder to find once the new decade pressed on.
Sepratist -- Closure
February 7th, 2014
Blackened deathcore is a real rarity, mostly because the two genres are opposite in about every way possible. Sepratist apply dissonance and atmosphere to achieve a significant blackening of the deathcore that backbones the project; doing so without being "deathcore with blast beats" or "black metal with breakdowns" was the hard part, and Closure is a success in that regard. Another distinction, too, is that Sepratist is the brainchild of one person, Australia-based Sam Dishington (who worked with several guests on Closure but wrote the album himself). It's an interesting singular view of what deathcore could still achieve following its late-2000s/early-2010s heyday: while purists on both sides may see Closure's blackening as a farce or gimmick, the album does blend the outright aggression of most deathcore albums and melancholic effervescence that characterizes black metal into something distinctly heavy and bleak.
The punchy nocturne of Closure is what really sells this release. One running trend with non-sucking deathcore, at least in my opinion, is the reintegration of the breakdown as a complexity-building tool versus cheap-thrill exploit, as I described above for Circle of Contempt. This doesn't mean that Closure doesn't have its simple and stupefying moments of brutality, of course, but it does mean that when they happen, they actually matter, especially in the blackened void created by all the saturated atmospherics that Dishington worked into the story. Songs like the nine-minute "Carrier" run the gamut between thickly layered, blasting ascents that build suspense and the chonking breakdowns that blow said suspense to fucking smithereens. I love the drama of this album, its unrelenting and sinister onslaught, something which feels like a work of true pain and intrigue instead of the giddy and pointless open-string pounding usually associated with deathcore.
Phasma -- Phasma
June 20, 2018
Phasma's Phasma feels like a phasma -- a cyborgian and pissed-off one. Whereas non-sucking deathcore usually eschews any ultra-mechanical and robotic feels, some deathcore bands just go all for it… usually resulting in an even greater failure. Not this band, though, whose self-titled album from last year stands as a reminder that deathcore just can't be killed. Yes, there's saxophone in this deathcore, but not nearly enough to distract anyone from how resolutely fucking planetary Phasma's sheer weight is. Embroidered with plenty of tech-death-derived technicality, but honoring the primacy of the breakdown, the album wastes no time quick-shifting between sinister chugs, groovy leads, and a wide variety of tempos. It feels decidedly modern without feeling automated in any way, an interesting achievement in this human age of, well, the automation of as many things as possible, music included.
The only thing, in my mind, not going for Phasma is its brief runtime and resulting fever-dream aftertaste: this album is more a selection of separate tracks than one tied-together narrative, not a dealbreaker but worth mentioning in any case. This would present a serious issue for black metal, for instance, but not deathcore whose defining element is one of fragmentation anyhow. This fragmentation on Phasma does actually benefit it, though, in the face of much longer-form deathcore: it comes, it slays, and it leaves. Let's call it a short story, then, instead of an unfinished novel. For some (and this is something I totally get), you can only have "so much" of this kind of metal before your mind turns to spaghetti. Phasma turns my mind to spaghetti every time, especially the fifth track "Heathen's Hammer," and I love spaghetti despite getting (temporarily) tired of it after just one meal.