REVIEW: Distant – Heritage [2023]

Artist: Distant
Album: Heritage

When I think of the word heritage, the first thing that comes to mind is the notion of something being passed down generation-to-generation—not like a disease, mind you—but an heirloom, trait or quality. Something resolute that embeds itself into the core identity of a group of people. Over time, this thing changes, takes on slightly new meanings with each new passing of the torch—which brings us to Distant, and their aptly titled full length record, Heritage. On Heritage, Distant continue their development and build on the history that was started with their breakout EP Tsukuyomi in 2017. What was once a dissonant, brooding downtempo deathcore band has morphed—grown if you will—into a refined, balanced and brutalizing contemporary deathcore band, but not one that has forgotten its roots. Heritage brings the listener the most well-rounded and developed version of the band to date, but one still laden with aggression and hostility enough to remind the listener exactly where Distant came from. Combining eerie atmosphere with bouncy, groove-heavy fretwork, pummeling percussion and a simply dazzling vocal performance all finished with hypermodern, elaborate production, Heritage is a marvelous record that sees Distant crack into the utmost core of their potential that has been lurking just out of reach until now.
Where Distant started as a band focused on the low’n’slow side of deathcore, they are now a well-balanced juggernaut, laden with both languishing leads and lurid, face-contorting breakdowns both. Heritage demonstrates this in spades, with songs throughout the release that dance along the spectrum spanning deathcore’s more technical and more primal domains. “Paradigm Shift,” the record’s first proper track demonstrates this balance beautifully, with quick, punchy percussion that drives bouncy, explosive grooves into the listener’s skull like a sledgehammer swinging at a rusty nail. Other songs—like the crushing album closer “Plaguebreeder” throw technicality to the wayside, and, in the process, create what is arguably Distant’s most barbaric display of outright oppression ever—or at least since “Acolytes of Damnation.” Here, the percussion and vocals steal the show, with a cannon-like kick drum amplified by an uproarious bass tone working boldly alongside a beefy, thick guitar. “Plaguebreeder” gives us an excellent morsel of insight into Distant’s ability to unearth pure malevolence, where other songs find themselves on the other end of the spectrum. “Exofilth,” the record’s lead single, is a groovier cut that—yeah, while still heavy—showcases the band’s depth beyond that of a chug-predominant deathcore act. “Heritage” is another such example, where melody works dynamically within a backbone of erosive aggression, highlighting the ability of the band’s guitarists and percussionist to elegantly transition from gut-busting brutality to moments of pseudo-ethereality. The takeaway you should be getting from the band’s instrumentation on Heritage is that the band have grown immensely, and the more metallic overtones hinted at throughout the trio of EPs released throughout 2021 is now fully fleshed out.

In the growing tides of contemporary deathcore, there is an entity—a wave, if you will—lovingly (but crudely) categorized as deathcore with a strong vocal wank-off component. You know the type—where the band’s primary draw is just how insanely their vocalist can distort their voice. Within that subtype, there’s another subtype (bear with me, I have a point). That subtype are the bands with extremely talented vocalists—but with other excellent selling points as well. The best example of the latter type is likely Lorna Shore, but Distant readily align themselves with Lorna and their comrades on Heritage—another example of growth from their previous releases. Heritage is home to a monstrous vocal performance, which isn’t really surprising, but still deserves to be discussed. Distant and their frontman, Alan Grnja, are well known for vocal excellence, but that excellence is…well, even more excellent on Heritage. Grnja’s low, grisly bellows and piercing screams shine on “Born of Blood,” and his work alongside several of underground heavy music’s biggest and most prominent vocalists on “Argent Justice” is a testament to just how good Grnja has become since Distant’s inception nearly a decade ago. His range is immense and his ability to continue the lore established in Distant’s infancy while still developing his own style and pushing the band’s growth as well is colossal, well worthy of lofty praise.

Distant are a band I’ve liked for a long time now—and people who were neck-deep in the mid-2010s downtempo craze know the humble origins from which they began. Seeing them grow into the same act that wrote Heritage is stunning. Heritage is a strong record that has few overt flaws: it may be just a touch too long at nearly 50 minutes, and for all its features, “Argent Justice” isn’t quite the centerpiece most may be expecting. Instead, songs like “Heritage,” with just one feature (albeit, from Lorna Shore’s Will Ramos) seem to shine just as bright—if not brighter—and keep the listener coming back just as much. Overall, Heritage is the result of a cashed check; the check of pure potential and promise written by the band’s trilogy of EPs (or the amalgam thereof, Aeons of Oblivion). Varied, devastatingly aggressive and carefully constructed, Distant’s 2023 full length release is their magnum opus, and sets the tone for their work to follow.

For Fans Of: Bodysnatcher, Lorna Shore, Oceano, Ingested, Mental Cruelty
By: Connor Welsh