Artist: The Acacia Strain
What happens after death has been one of the most heavily disputed topics in human history since…well, since there has been a human history, I’d imagine. Depending on your spiritual and religious inclinations, maybe you’ll go to a heaven or hell—maybe even a purgatory. Perhaps you’ll be reincarnated, into another being or object (depending on whether your faith describes a caste system or not).
Or maybe, if your beliefs are more in line with the message conveyed by ultra-heavyweight Connecticut crushers The Acacia Strain, nothing happens. You’re planted in the ground inside of a pine box like a flesh seed—and your remains decay until they eventually fertilize the earth enough for something to take root and grow. Your flesh, bone, clothes and spirit do nothing but serve as fodder for something else to grow and eventually die. And that vicious cycle of birth, growth, neglect and death is precisely the dismal and gloomy atmosphere that defines The Acacia Strain’s latest full-length effort, Gravebloom. Heavier than ever before with more despair and darkness than the worst incarnation of Hell you can imagine, Gravebloom continues the band’s long-standing tradition of one-upping their last releases, taking the lyrical prowess and pure hatred from Coma Witch and Death is the Only Mortal and smashing it head-on into the punchy, honest anger of Continent and Wormwood to create an experience that is 100% unique to The Acacia Strain, taking elements from their entire discography to give the listener a thoroughly new and enjoyable experience from start to finish.
The Acacia Strain have always found themselves at a unique crossroads, musically. A little too low, slow and groovy to be straight-up deathcore, yet not simplistic or gimmicky enough to fall into downtempo territory, the group combine bare-knuckle, ass-whooping elements from hardcore and combine it with doom-tinted elements of an atmosphere most abysmal—and then add in deathcore and death metal elements as needed to reach the weight and power characteristic to whatever crushing and cruel concoction they happen to be cooking up. Gravebloom is every bit the same in that respect—with The Acacia Strain starting on a furious foundation of fist-throwing heaviness and adding in ethereal touches of bleak, soul-burdening and sinister despair. Percussionist Kevin Boutot captures this to a tee, leading the band’s faster moments—like those found in “Plague Doctor” and “Bitter Pill,” yet aptly slowing things down as needed during the ten-ton track “Cold Gloom,” or the adequately named “Abyssal Depths.” Boutot might not be as absurdly fast as The Acacia Strain’s slam-tinted deathcore and death metal peers—nor is he ridiculously technical—but he writes perfectly for the style and dynamic employed by quartet (and that’s in italics so you know I’m not hyperbolizing). Boutot adds fills and fast footwork at key points to push songs into or out of moments of sludgy, languishing brutality—just as his groovy patterns during “Worthless” or “Model Citizen” are one of the crucial reasons the band defy contemporary genre categorization. Likewise, bassist Griffin Landa adds depth and dissonance to every moment on Gravebloom, coating Butot’s kick drum and toms with an explosive, dense layer of grit, prescribing a hefty dose of doom to the monstrous breakdowns like those in “Bitter Pill” or “Gravebloom.” Meanwhile, Landa grooves alongside Devin Shidaker’s furiously fretted and creatively crunchy riffs on “Calloused Mouth” and “Model Citizen” both. Shidaker’s skills are similar to Butot’s in the sense where overt technicality and “shred” aren’t his forte—but those have never been the point of The Acacia Strain. Instead, Shidaker does exactly what he’s supposed to do and does it excellently, with “Worthless” and “Bitter Pill” seeing his guitar taking on cavernous, sprawling and bleak soundscapes just as other moments on Gravebloom are apt examples of his ability to go right for the throat.
Then, there’s the man of the hour—somewhat literally as his voice covers the nearly-hour-long release—Vincent Bennett. While The Acacia Strain’s sound and style are definitely a collective effort of oppression and crushing weight from the entire act, personally, Bennett’s voice and penchant for pointed, pissed off lyrics have always defined The Acacia Strain, and from the catchy roars on “Worthless” through the howls on “Cold Gloom,” Gravebloom proudly carries that torch. Laden with one-liners sure to stay stuck in the listener’s head (“Worthless” and “Bitter Pill” especially) as well as haunting lyrics detailing murder and total lack of regret (the snarkily-named “Model Citizen”), Bennett’s ability to create spine-shaking and hair-raising atmospheres with his words alone is unphased. While, admittedly, his range and style haven’t undergone any marked changes, they really didn’t need to. When you have a vocal style as distinct as Bennett’s, change is almost abhorred—plus, Kublai Khan’s Matt Honeycutt appears with an excellently placed guest spot on “Bitter Pill” to keep things spicy. Bennett adds the icing to Gravebloom by using the same voice we know and love to serve as a vector for new-and-improved displays of depraved lyricism—what more could you really want?
Gravebloom sees The Acacia Strain exceeding the reputation instilled by their voluminous discography in every way possible. Heavier than ever before while maintaining enough catchiness, groove and ruthless intensity to keep fans of even the band’s earlier works satiated, Gravebloom is grisly perfection, no holds barred. A band known for their violence both musically and lyrically—and with a renowned repertoire of past works—it might seem like an overstatement to give The Acacia Strain such praise…until the listener has a chance to dig in. In a matter of minutes, Gravebloom will either win over the listener or sentence them to a shallow grave with no other options to be had.
For Fans Of: Oceano, Emmure, Hatebreed, Bodysnatcher
By: Connor Welsh