Album: The Decline
From the first hours of our existence in this world, our lives are a long, steady state of decline. We meet new people, accomplish things, fall in love and create families just for it to fade. The people we call friends throughout adolescence leave. The jobs and careers we work diligently to build collapse when we grow too old to tend to them. The people we love leave us behind, letting go of our heartstrings in a feeble attempt to hold on to their own.
Things don’t get better. This is the essence of life–this is what it is to live. This is The Decline.
As the curtains open on the Pacific Northwest’s resident masters of depressive, devastating aggression, Extortionist, and their debut full length release, The Decline, this is the story that awaits the listener. One of anguish, self-loathing and lurid, writhing heaviness, The Decline is a masterful expose into the state of the Human Condition as it exists in the 21st century. Loaded with groovy, gritty riffs, gut-busting breakdowns and catchy-yet-creative and introspective lyricism, The Decline defines the crossroads of contemplative, depressive storytelling and modern deathcore done to perfection—making it an early and long-awaited shining star for 2017’s heavy music offerings.
From the first notes and jarring drum patterns of “Regression,” Extortionist make it clear that they excel where most other modern bands lag behind: they work brilliantly as a cohesive unit. Percussionist Bob Gibbs is the band’s boorish, belligerently thumping heart—serving as a stellar foundation for raunchy, ruthless displays of deathcore prowess like “Malediction” and “Wither Away,” let grooving and flowing smoothly and somewhat subtly during less outright-aggressive songs like “1208.” Gibbs, simply put, is great at what he does—lacing sturdy, strong foundations of furious drumming with flashy fills and lacerating, machine gun blast beats (see the lead single, “Guilt,” if you doubt this). Gibbs’ skill is such that he is able to show off without overpowering bassist Riker Morrow; as the two work together in brazen synchrony. The low, dirging portions of “Guilt” and “Malediction” prove this—as Morrow and Gibbs create a stellar low-end for guitarists Jared Dorsla and Kip Treeman to shine atop. Dorsla and Treeman, simply put, are two of the most innovative riffsmiths that the groovier, more contemporary side of deathcore has seen in some time. Hammering an entire hardware store’s worth of nails into the casket of the band’s low-and-slow debut, Dorsla and Treeman create low-slung and loud displays of devastating aggression and depressive, bitter brutality in every song. Whether it’s the leads that shine during the climactic portions of “1208,” the fragile, arid dissonance in the penultimate interlude “The Decline” or the looping, churning opening to the barn-burner “Malediction,” Dorsla and Treeman prove they can do much more than just chug—although they still retain a marked ability to craft crushing breakdowns, evident in the climactic portions of songs like the aforementioned “Malediction,” or throughout the scathing, sinister salvos of surreal aggression in “Wither Away.”
Where The Decline‘s devastating instrumentation is engaging enough to skyrocket the listener’s interest all on its own, the true stories of self-deprecation and bitter, depressive introspection pour from the mouth of frontman Benjamin Hoagland. Hoagland is the voice—as well as the spirit of Extortionist, channeling every ounce of his own being into every syllable he spits. This is as true in the energetic vocal onslaughts of “Wither Away,” “Malediction” and “Guilt” as it is during the brooding, bitter and almost-too-honest interlude, “The Decline.” On every track, Hoagland takes a knife made of fear, betrayal, disgust and hatred and slits his stomach, spilling his guts with vocal acrobatics that are second-to-none, as well as lyrical skill that puts a poetic twist on typical death-and-metalcore styles. In respect to his ruthless talent when it comes to sprawling, dynamic vocal range, “Wither Away” sees Hoagland’s talents at the top of their game—especially when he dives into ungodly low growls during the climactic, contagiously catchy “dead eyes/and a crooked smile/you are nothing more.” However “The Decline” sees him barely modifying his voice at all—talking more than anything while he sheds whatever guise of normalcy and happiness his soul might otherwise hold, leveling with the listener in a way that is more relatable than most of Extortionist’s peers; just as Hoagland’s skill and writing both find themselves towering above and beyond the efforts of his contemporaries.
The Decline is more than the album fans of Extortionist have been waiting for–and it’s even more than the fans of the band could have honestly even hoped for. Between guest appearances from Oceano’s Adam Warren and Barrier’s David Libert, carefully written-and-re-written grooves, riffs, breakdowns and interludes and Hoagland’s exceptional lyricism, The Decline ensures that whatever remnants of Extortionist’s debut EP might be left in their dynamic are, at the very least, immensely improved upon (if not obliterated entirely). The Decline is a full length album that I’ve had more than half of a year to scrutinize and pick apart, scouring for flaws or moments of weakness, only to come up empty handed every time; if there’s higher praise I can offer an album, I don’t know what it could be. Extortionist work together as a comprehensive, creative unit—covering moments of off-the-wall technicality and oppressive, unthinkable aggression and everything in between. Catchy and cruel—energetic and eviscerating, The Decline is the soundtrack to a life coming apart at the seams…and it’s never been so well put together.
For Fans Of: Distinguisher, Falsifier, Black Tongue, Barrier
By: Connor Welsh