Artist: Chelsea Grin
Album: Suffer in Hell
We’ve reached a point in heavy music—deathcore especially—where it’s really hard to be one of those progenitor bands. You know—one of the “big five” (or three, or ten, whatever). At this point, the genre has been through what, two recessions and two relative comebacks? The dip at the very onset of last decade, 2011-2012 before the surge of Deathcore’s downtempo cousin—followed by another, lengthier dip and an even sharper rise at the end of 2019 into 2020, which, while starting slow blossomed beautifully into the blast-beats-and-breakdowns heyday we’re experiencing now, before our very ears.
And through it all, Chelsea Grin has been there.
Whether it was the critically acclaimed Desolation of Eden or Ashes to Ashes—or maybe Evolve, and the dark days of Self-Inflicted that came after—there’s no denying the band’s history and influence. Hell, one of the first big deathcore shows I ever attended was Chelsea Grin headlining with Oceano and Monsters in support. What a time to be alive. The point of all this wasn’t to take a walk down memory lane, but rather to illustrate the immense strain it takes to be a deathcore band that’s stuck it out through all those twists and turns—and the effect it has on your identity. Ten-plus years into the game, Chelsea Grin are once more tasked with balancing their own identity against the popular styles of deathcore, and if we’re being honest, it isn’t going well. Suffer in Hell is part of a double LP that sees the band breaking a lengthy quietus and embarking on releasing their most ambitious release yet. The only problem? Well, to put it politely, if this is the first step, I’m not sure I want to ride it out for the whole voyage. Suffer in Hell, while not a total miss, is also nothing close to a hit, and falls woefully short of the potential the band is comprised of. With many songs blending together and becoming incredible forgetful, and other songs memorable only for questionable lyricism or the occasional monstrous breakdown, Suffer in Hell lacks focus and intent, and instead sounds split between an attempt to recapture the nostalgic whims of late 2000s deathcore and an attempt to capitalize on splashing a cajun dusting of blackened metal atop a pile of thrown-together leads and breakdowns.
On paper, Chelsea Grin are arguably the best they’ve ever been and there is no reason Suffer in Hell shouldn’t be an overwhelming success. In practice, it just didn’t quite pan out—and it isn’t so simple as pointing at any one element and saying “that’s where it all went wrong.” Instead, the whole release feels haphazard and relatively thoughtless—something a release four-plus years in the making shouldn’t ever feel like. Lets take lead single “Origin of Sin” for example. Here, rapidly fretted riffs soar over speedy drumming with the occasional punchy chug or flashy fill thrown in for good measure. The song builds to a crushing breakdown where the mantra “think or die” is hammered into the listener’s skull—as if it hasn’t been for the last three years by Twitter-based science-deniers. On paper? Good. Maybe a little corny, but hell, deathcore was built on corny. In practice? I forgot about the song almost immediately after listening to it. Short of the repetitive, bordering on unnecessary closing breakdown (which only stuck with me because the lyrics were…well, on brand), I couldn’t really recall a single line of lyrics or a segment, riff, fill or vocal pattern that really stood out to me. As Suffer in Hell plodded onwards, the story failed to change, with each song blending sloppily into the last, with only rare moments where a dizzying breakdown or skin-rending riff might leap out at me (“Crystal Casket” alongside the album’s closing cut are excellent examples). What’s worse is that the same could be said for the vocal element—something I don’t think I’d ever catch myself saying about frontman and household name Tom Barber. Where Barber’s work with Darko mere months ago was fresh, exhilarating and rejuvenating, here he just feels…bored. Even some of the more “risky” portions—including the why is this even here? Inducing grisly spoken verse intro—just miss their mark entirely. Not all is lost—“The Isnis” is catchy, and “Suffer in Hell, Suffer in Heaven” hits harder than The Hulk after missing a month of anger management classes, but beyond that, Barber’s contribution to Suffer in Hell failed to leave the listener with any lasting impression.
This isn’t to say it’s all bad. Like I’ve tried to focus on, there is good to be found in Suffer in Hell. For one, the production is top notch—despite Chelsea Grin’s newfound fixation to give most of the songs a blackened finish, the choices made in mixing and mastering make things feel sharp and bright. Then, there’s “Suffer in Hell, Suffer in Heaven” which is late-2000s Top-Breakdowns-of-the-Year YouTube video worthy. Similarly, “Crystal Casket” and second single “The Isnis” see the band bring the energy and intensity much of the release absolutely lacked to the table in flying colors. Despite this—and it truly brings me no joy to report—Suffer in Hell still falls flat, feeling average at best and, depending on how mean you want to be, sub-par otherwise. Is this just a curse of being a band who have reliably put out top-shelf material? Am I just being a picky asshole in my relative old age? Hell, maybe both are true—but either way you choose to cut it, Chelsea Grin’s journey needs to kick it into high gear on Suffer in Heaven, or else the only ones suffering will be the listeners who waited years for the band’s double album.
For Fans Of: Bodysnatcher, Oceano, Tracheotomy, A Wake in Providence
By: Connor Welsh