While it would be a stretch to say that deathcore has “come a long way”, this most maligned of metal subgenres has gradually started stretching itself into some semi-interesting new shapes. Take the black metal-inspired cacophony of Worm Shepherd for instance, or the relentless nihilism-on-quaaludes of the latest The Acacia Strain album.
Along with Aversions Crown, Slaughter To Prevail, Lorna Shore, and numerous others across the globe, we’re seeing the rise of deathcore 2.0; a version of the genre that’s more expansive and ornate yet simultaneously even more intense and punishing. The layers of instrumentation are more elaborate, the production more ambitious, and the blasts and breakdowns are even more ugly and visceral.
However, this formula does not guarantee success. While it’s interesting to see the genre stretch itself, part of deathcore’s appeal has always been its meat-headed simplicity. It was music to lift weights too, or show to your friends and laugh along with its ridiculousness. With ‘Välde’, Sweden’s Humanity’s Last Breath are taking a much more cerebral approach to this most corporeal of genres, one that has yielded some intriguing, if extremely mixed, results.
Given their national heritage, it’s tempting, as many have, to compare Humanity’s Last Breath to technical metal pioneers Meshuggah. This is a mistake, the two groups share little in common bare an affinity for down-tuned, earth-shattering guitars. There’s almost none of Meshuggah‘s incredible deconstructed musicality to be found in ‘Välde’, who are much more interested in deathcore staples such as protracted breakdowns, intelligible vocals, and ominous atmospherics.
This focus on spacious, eerie soundscapes is the album’s greatest strength. The best, or most memorable songs are the ones that are the most wide-open and cavernous, such as ‘Spectre’, which, bar a brief blast beat or two, proceeds at a neck-snapping, bludgeoning crawl. ‘Tide’ is especially sparse and sluggish, starting with scratchy, brown-note chugs and great mid-tempo movement, then building towards an intense closing stretch comprised of synths and unexpected clean vocals.
However, generally ‘Välde’ is not as surprising or singular as it seems to think it is. The tremolo picks, sludgy breakdowns, and black metal influences have all been done by many of the previously mentioned bands, and even the weirder, mathier parts simply recall a less experimental or angular Car Bomb or Frontierer. Certain tracks like ‘Earthless’ and ‘Futility’ feel especially vague and interchangeable, which, given their insanely over-the-top compositional qualities, isn’t quite good enough.
‘Välde’ is an odd album, mostly familiar and generic but peppered with occasional moments of unpredictability and confrontation. The moments that work show how deathcore can convey an especially chilling form of meat-headed anger.
However, simultaneously, though Humanity’s Last Breath‘s decision to focus on soundscapes and textures is an admirable one, in doing so they may have inadvertently revealed the limits and boundaries of this infamous genre.