Album: Absolution – Split EP
To live is to sin. As humans, we steep ourselves in wrongdoing—lying, cheating and stealing—which manifests in outward expressions of guilt, despair and depression. As such, we’ve established means of spiritual reconciliation—whether it’s through religious confession or spiritual cleansing—but for some of us, there is no holy water that can absolve the wrongs committed, and no deity that will divine forgiveness upon us. The only thing left to do is a violent catharsis–an intense, carnal cleansing we inflict upon ourselves. Varials know it, Vicious Embrace know it, and by the time you finish their split EP, Absolution, you will too. A combination of sharp, steady-handed riffing and absurd, over the top heaviness, these metalcore juggernauts work in a devastating one-two punch dynamic to completely obliterate the listener by the time “Cries Left Unheard” reaches its end. In a time where split releases typically see one band carrying the other, Varials and Vicious Embrace shatter the popular conception, as they are almost equally matched when it comes to blistering flesh and splintering bone.
If there is one band that took 2015 by storm, it was without a doubt Pennsylvanian metalcore act Varials. Failure//Control was a monstrous step forward not just for the band, but for the more hardcore-tinted side of metalcore, thrusting the riff-driven, ultra-heavy variant of the genre right into the limelight (with the help of some nudist moshing). Absolution sees the band returning, once more, with more variety and dynamic songwriting—proving that if there’s any band that can live up to seemingly insurmountable heaps of hype, it is, once more, Varials.
Instrumentally, the band still dominate with a carefully blended amalgam of dirty, gritty aggression and smooth songwriting, allowing the group to expertly transition between mind-boggling heaviness and bouncy, riff-driven chaos. Defined by brilliant, catchy percussion (complete with Sean Rauchut’s ridiculous ride bell) topped off with bold bass guitar and fretwork that oscillates between thrashy (see: the solo in “Iota”) and raunchy (see: the breakdown that follows the solo in “Iota”), Varials’ half of Absolution is everything the listener could want and then some. “Iota” is the more dynamic and intriguing of the two, as Varials step once more out of their comfort zone, adding a cool-and-catchy solo into the mix—where “Bite” is the brutalizing, belligerent mosh anthem that the group are known for. The two tracks work in harmony—with vocalist Travis Tabron exploring concepts of confinement and defeat on “Iota,” yet lashing out at the world with “Bite,” expertly following each of the songs’ respective musical tactics. When it comes down to it, “Iota” and “Bite” are Varials at the top of their game—catchy enough to earn new fans out of old skeptics, and ruthless enough to keep their rightfully-earned following coming back for more.
Where Varials are a band that spent 2015 transforming into a household name, Vicious Embrace step up to the plate with much less of a reputation for themselves—but just as much aggression and intensity. The latter half of Absolution sees Vicious Embrace letting loose with a more metallic hardcore take on contemporary metalcore, adding chaos and zeal at regular intervals throughout “Another Cog in the Machine” and “Cries Left Unheard.” Where the group are less straightforward than their Pennsylvanian counterparts, they still keep the listener’s head banging—and their head racing to keep up.
Vicious Embrace a firm foundation of fast-paced and pissed off hardcore and spice it up with frantic fretwork and spastic percussion that keeps the listener on the edge of their seat for the entirety of their half of the split. “Another Cog in the Machine” begins earnestly enough—but quickly the group’s penchant for flashy guitars manifests with flashy fill and jarring harmonics tossed here and there among their low, gritty riffing. In this fashion, Vicious Embrace continue throughout the remainder of “Cog,” and all the way until the end of “Cries Left Unheard”—oscillating between two-steppy riffs and thrashy, headbang-inducing mayhem that takes swift but sinister detours into devastating, chugged-out brutality. While Vicious Embrace’s portions of Absolution may be less polished than Varials’, this doesn’t stop their six minutes of material from sweeping the listener off their feet—as those who had never heard of the group will definitely look into them more after having heard “Cries Left Unheard.”
Too often, split EPs are either boring B-sides by “big” bands, or a time for one band to release great new material while dragging their friend’s/brother’s/boss’ band along for the ride. Absolution is neither. It sees two excellent bands working side-by-side to put forth some of their best material yet, making it a welcome change of pace for those who almost dread listening to split releases.
For Fans Of: xRepentancex, Knocked Loose, Left Behind, Kingmaker, Relapse
By: Connor Welsh