Betraying The Martyrs - 'The Resilient'
We've said it before on RoomThirteen: if you're going to follow a formula, then you'd better nail it. There's absolutely nothing wrong with rehashing old, well-trodden ground if you are prepared to genuinely hone your craft and deliver that blueprint in its best possible form. However, as we have collectively flung open the curtains on a new year, and bands from seemingly every direction in heavy music are pushing the envelope, if, like Betraying The Martyrs, you're playing metalcore with symphonic elements, then heaven help you if you are anything less than solid. Unfortunately for them, Betraying The Martyrs' latest offering, The Resilient, is about as sturdy as a soggy paper bowl full of melted Haagen-Dazs and, at points, just as intensely cloying.
With Lost For Words, the album begins passably enough, save for the cringeworthy faux-dramatic operatic vocal sample (more on this later) almost ruining what is a pretty decent trade off between the rhythm section and the down-tuned guitar line. However, when these opening 30 or so seconds are finished, and the same timeworn tropes come lurching into view, alarm bells will start ringing, and will most likely continue ringing until the last electronically sampled drum line on Wide Awake fades away, shoving Betraying The Martyrs headlong into the overpopulated forest of "Warped Tour" metalcore bands.
Regardless of the fact that Betraying The Martyrs seemingly wouldn't know hardcore if it walked up to them in a Gorilla Biscuits t-shirt clutching a copy of Out Of Step, for the sake of argument we'll call The Resilient a metalcore record in its loosest possible form. Metalcore at its very best (As I Lay Dying's Shadows Are Security for example) is constructed around melodic death metal-inspired riffing, excellent rhythmical gymnastics that keep the listener's head going like a particularly exuberant woodpecker, and a harsh/clean vocal trade-off that, even when the cleans are at the lighter end of the spectrum, is tempered by searing menace at the other. On The Resilient, the chugged riffing is about as generic as it comes, the rhythmical stylings are uninteresting and the less said about the clean vocals here, the better. Actually, no, let's say something about the clean vocals: they're about as saccharine as repeatedly being baptised in the chocolate river at Willy Wonker's Factory by an army of Jelly Babies. Not only that, there are far too many occasions on this record where the vocals descend into pathetic, hyper-emotive phraseologies that will send the listener scrabbling for the sick bag: "Take me back to when I still felt young/take me back to when this all began", complete with a dreadful forced rhyme, being a particularly stomach-churning example.
Overlaying virtually the entire record is an example of how not to use electronics so potent, that it should instantly send any band considering tinkering with the Moog rifling through their wallet for the receipt and back to the store to return it immediately. The trick with electronics, fake orchestras especially, is for them to sound as natural as possible, as though the strings were recorded right there in the studio - Carnifex did this extremely well on Slow Death last year. Here, the synths are so oppressive, so artificial and so utterly overpowering that they virtually choke the life out of the rest of the band and smother each track in affected grandiosity.
The real shame about this record is that, very occasionally, the band actually show that they have the capacity to perform this kind of music fairly competently. Unregistered is a really good song, built around a gigantic riff, a brutal vocal performance in the verses and a chorus that, whilst still containing some pretty meaningless lyrics is actually a great example of the harsh/clean dynamic outline above. The beatdown two-thirds of the way through is straight out of the Black Tongue school of downtempo brutality that will have the listener gurning like a raver at 3am. Of course, one obvious reason this song is better than practically everything else on this album is because the electronic elements are virtually undiscoverable, meaning the song has far more space to breathe and develop. In parts, (Dis)connected is also a great track, neatly delivering the necessary aggression over engaging rhythmical interplay, though it is unfortunately knocked down a couple of pegs by a particularly poor clean vocal performance.
Unfortunately, The Resilient careers off a cliff over the course of the last three nigh-on-interchangeable tracks, but there is one final element that needs to be highlighted before this review comes to a close, and that is one of the record's singles Won't Back Down. The sentiment of this song, standing strong in the face of terror, is undeniably a vitally important one, and one that no level-headed individual could possibly take umbrage with in these times of increasing global unrest. And as a result, especially considering the repeated horrors that France has faced over recent years, it almost feels inappropriate to criticise this track too heavily. However, we must judge these things based upon the art, as well as the context within which it is created and the message contained therein, and, built around an incredibly lethargic pace and the now-beyond cliched melancholic piano, Won't Back Down is by far and away the worst song on what is an extremely below-par big label release. As a general rule, it is always disappointing when tracks with a meaningful and laudable message are shackled to a musical wagon completely ill-fitted to deliver it effectively, and one would be hard-pressed to unearth a worse example than Won't Back Down.
We must surely be approaching a time when bands like Betraying The Martyrs begin to think about hanging up their spurs, but if labels like Sumerian keep churning out records of such substandard quality as The Resilient, unfortunately that time will continue to be some distance into the future.