There’s something to be said for sticking to your guns. The metalcore scene, once overpopulated with lookalikes, has begun to thin as today’s scene bands explore new (and old) heavy music territory. As the era of brutal breakdowns and guttural screams begins to fade, here stands Blessthefall – purveyors of a once exploding genre and perhaps our lasting example of its excellence.
In the years to come, Blessthefall’s narrative will be told as one of consistency. In 2009, Witness shrugged away the naysayers after their original vocalist fled and crafted an early playbook for the coming decade’s melodic metalcore. After 2011’s Awakening failed to expand on that effort, 2013 brought Hollow Bodies, arguably one of the genre’s finest releases. With 2015’s To Those Left Behind, the band once again tweaked their formula, remaining one of the scene’s revered acts.
All that to say, Blessthefall has had a strong run. With over a decade in the books, it’s fair to feel fatigued with the idea of another similar sonic serving, especially in light of the band’s recent signing with Rise Records, a label intertwined with the genre’s success. But Hard Feelings seems to usurp that notion – it’s an album that sounds every bit like the Blessthefall you’ve always known, but is chock full of both nostalgia and new tricks that keep you on your toes.
Album opener “Wishful Sinking” quickly unveils new electronic programming and synthesizers that match the band’s glossy new neon visual aesthetics. Just as the expected breakdown hits at the 3:30 mark, the track’s tight production jumps the shark with sharp, glitchy cuts that make you reach for the rewind button. When’s the last time a breakdown made your ears perk up? As the moments we once lived for grow tired, Blessthefall has uncovered something new.
On “Feeling Low”, the band borrows Saosin’s signature guitar squeal to breathe new life into their riffs. It’s a track that harkens a past era of post-hardcore while still managing to feel fresh thanks to a delightfully sing-able chorus, tight production, and a new take on Blessthefall’s aggressive technical prowess.
These juxtaposing concepts particularly pervade the album’s back half, with tracks like “I’m Over Being Under(rated)” and “Sleepless in Phoenix” serving as pulsing, upbeat tracks that never defer to an unnecessary heavy crunch. Yes, there are still breakdowns, but the bulk of the band’s music forces you to key in on new features and ideas that have shifted the balance. Frankly, the band’s melodic moments are more frequent and far more compelling.
For all of the subtle tonal shifts across Hard Feelings, nothing stands quite as stark as vocalist Beau Bokan, who has officially delivered his best performance. No longer structured as the soaring medicine to bassist Jared Warth’s scalding screams, Bokan is free to test new waters. Take “Sakura Blues”, where Bokan delivers a quiet opening verse at a lower register while gracefully inserting his falsetto. It’s a simple exercise in theory, but it makes his driving chorus all the more compelling and offers another welcome progression to the band’s sound.
Tucked neatly inside of all of this, and easily missed, is the band’s strongest trait of all. Hard Feelings explores a variety of moods and emotions, aggressively tackling messy life circumstances and relationships, but its default mode is one of hope. From the cry out for relief on “Keep Me Close” to the familiar pang for family and love on “Welcome Home”, the band leaves the door open for resolution. Bokan’s daughter Rocket adorably joins her dad for the album’s final refrain of, “It’s not living if I’m not living with you”.
With that kind of closing, it’s almost possible to imagine Blessthefall riding into the sunset with Hard Feelings as their swan song. If that were to be the case, the band could hang their hat on over a decade of output that guided the course for a scene during its heyday, standing as one of its most respected acts. But let’s drop the conjecture – on its own, Hard Feelings is a worthy addition to the Blessthefall catalogue, a shift in sound that feels fresh and authentic, and further proof of the band’s commitment to its craft.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.