Album: Into the Fray
While it should come as no surprise, when I was asked to review the debut album by metalcore act Healer, my heart skipped a beat. Combining some of my favorite styles of music in a record by an artist whose name strikes eerily close to home (given my career as a physician) sounded like something too good to be true. When I thought it didn’t get any better I heard–in the words of the late great yell-and-sell himself:
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
Behind the helm of Healer happened to be a vocalist I consider to be criminally underrated given their resume and talent—and he just so happened to have partnered with several other extremely talented musicians. So, before I’d even heard the first full song from Healer’s debut release Into the Fray, I had high hopes. Amid the wild amalgam of 2010 “Rise-core,” steamrolling metalcore, anthemic alternative and gritty, harsh heaviness, Into the Fray not only earned its name, but assuaged my concerns. Still a little rough around the edges and a pinch unrefined, Healer’s debut effort is passionate, powerful and punishingly heavy, making it an equally nostalgic and progressive contemporary metalcore hit.
Into the Fray is a churning, energetic amalgam of metalcore in a plethora of shades. With songs like “Alpha” and “Lone Wolf” bashing away with heavy, grisly grooves and songs like “Deception” and “Perfectly Broken” harping on chorus-heavy, heavy/soft dynamics, Healer have their work cut out for them in crafting a fluid, smooth record. Fortunately, Healer’s resident songwriter, Norman Ragan III handled just about every aspect of Into the Fray with tact and ease. Handling everything from the percussion to fretwork and effects (save “Sick of It,” which was provided by Sam Schneider), Ragan’s writing demonstrates dynamism and skill. Where percussion is concerned, Into the Fray boasts quick footwork and fast hands on the more reckless and rampant songs (of which “Alpha” is one) that blend beautifully with moments of more moderate, introspective melancholy (“Separation,” among others). Ragan’s work with Healer’s percussion is mirrored in his positions as writing guitarist and bassist. Ragan’s fretwork takes the power and drive provided by the drum kit and make it hit like a freight train. “Sick of It” and “Deception” are two incredible examples of this—where Ragan’s fretwork boasts both brutalizing chugs and scathing leads, and the bass adds density and heft. Ragan and Staley work together not only to create moments of pulverizing aggression, but also to help Into the Fray transition smoothly from hectic segments to moments of soothing ambience. Where, ultimately, Healer find themselves still perfecting the oscillation between heavy and soft components, the means by which they make songs like “Alpha” or “Lone Wolf” work highlights the skill and creativity that Ragan’s writing–with performances manifested by percussionist Devon Marr and bassist Jake Staley–bring to the band’s dynamic.
Healer’s single most surprising element is found within their vocalist—Cody Harmon, who many may know from his work in I Killed Everyone or The Breathing Process. With Into the Fray, Harmon takes on a different tone—without sacrificing any ingenuity or vocal dynamism. Harmon’s work in Healer takes the listener back to the days of Rise Records’ 2010-2012 roster, with catchy, cleanly sung choruses contrasting against burly growls and shrieking screams. “Lone Wolf” sees Harmon at perhaps his most dynamic, with many of Healer’s heaviest moments juxtaposed alongside their softest. Likewise, “Deception” sees Harmon telling a very personal story through both bitter, grating screams and serene singing. Where Harmon takes a lot of risks with Healer, he is met with mostly reward. To my own surprise, the singing really works—it doesn’t feel forced for the most part. Some songs—like “Deception”—see evidence that while the singing functions very well within Healer’s dynamic, it still doesn’t flow perfectly. Here, Harmon’s voice—while sound—seems to blend poorly with its sonic soundscape in comparison to some of Healer’s other tracks (“Perfectly Broken,” for example). “Deception,” as well as the record’s title track, both feature cleanly sung segments that simply don’t meld as well as they do elsewhere, and seem to bring the songs down by virtue. This is doubled by some segments of Into the Fray’s vocals feeling mixed in a both high and forward position, coming at the listener far more aggressively than feels contextually necessary given their instrumental support. These pitfalls are rare and ultimately short-lived, fortunately not detracting much, if at all, from Into the Fray as a whole.
Into the Fray is a very nostalgic and sturdy record from a collection of musicians whom one would not have expected to stray into the heavy-soft world of metalcore. The end result? A resounding record with many hits and only a few misses in the terms of transition, vocal dynamism and slightly off-balance production. All things considered, Into the Fray is a break-neck debut release that boasts remarkable talent and even more potential to become the true alpha among its contemporary metalcore peers.
For Fans Of: Like Moths to Flames, Adestria, Kingdom of Giants, Currents
By: Connor Welsh