REVIEW: Paleface – Fear & Dagger [2022]


Artist: Paleface
Album: Fear & Dagger

So often when a band endorses a change to their style or sound, that change comes with the goal of increasing appeal—becoming more radio and arena friendly, moving away from the extremes that may have defined their earlier work. In heavy music particularly, this phenomenon has been rampant throughout the better part of the last decade—and it isn’t without merit; it’s increased awareness, listeners and social presence for many contemporary metal artists. Hell, for a select few, it’s made playing breakdowns a sustainable career. For some bands, however, maturation or a change of style doesn’t mean moving away from extremes—it might mean embracing them. Such is the case for Paleface, Switzerland’s finest slam-and-beatdown infused deathcore export. On their latest release, Fear & Dagger, the band moves away from the cinematic stylings of their earlier works in favor of something more introspective, emotional and impactful—all while still absolutely obliterating the listener with over 60 minutes of hectic, heavy insanity. Fear & Dagger is a more mature and refined work that manages to avoid the pitfalls and cliches of a “mature” sound and staying true to the style Paleface have spent several records crafting, feeling authentically and undeniably them.

Instrumentally, it wouldn’t be unfair or insulting to say that Paleface don’t reinvent the wheel. There are no turns of insane technicality, nor are there moments of breathtaking atmosphere that serve as a jaw-dropping juxtaposition against their jarring, lurid aggression. What Paleface do, they do insanely well—and what they do is brutal aggression, full stop. Nearly every song on Fear & Dagger is abrasive and oppressive, hitting the listener like a mallet to the temple; but once the mallet connects, the band don’t stop swinging for the next 67 minutes. Songs like “Pain” and “Deathtouch” see the band lashing out on all cylinders with pummeling percussion that runs rampant with the low, dissonant rumble of ten-ton bass and downtuned guitars. Similarly, “Dead Man’s Diary”—a faster cut—still sees the band taking swipes at the listener with riff-heavy leads and quick, punchy drums. Where Paleface switch it up is with the inclusion of “My Grave/Lay With Me,” which starts with stuttering staccato fretwork and precise percussion overflowing with hip-hop influence, but morphs into a heavy-handed and solemn post-grunge and stoner rock ballad. While the instrumentation still overwhelmingly feels heavy, it impacts the listener in a different way when compared to a large majority of Fear & Dagger. The record contains a couple other subtle twists and turns that take the listener on a ride—far be it from me to spoil all of them for you now—but suffice it to say that Fear & Dagger is a much more diverse ride than any other Paleface has taken us on to date.

Where Paleface take the biggest departure from Chapter 3: The Last Selection and the remainder of their back catalogue is with their vocal department—or more specifically, the lyrics within them. Deviating from the horror-infused thematic elements that dominated previously, Fear & Dagger is a more introspective work that directly approaches mental illness, suicidal ideation, mortality and fate. This is abundant on songs like “The Orphan,” the aforementioned “My Grave/Lay With Me” and “Dead Man’s Diary.” Now, never fear—there are still some moments of beatdown antics and pure ignorance (but like, the good kind) to be found throughout the record. One such would be Traitors’ Tyler Shelton and his appearance on “Chaos Theory.” Another would be the breakdown-heavy anthem “No Room Left in Hell,” or the equally chubby “God Looks the Other Way.” While even the more introspective songs on Fear & Dagger still hit like a ton of bricks, there is an incredible variety of emotions and attitudes felt throughout the record, covering everything from blinding, directionless rage to struggling with one’s own self-worth and identity. This lyrical growth provides an incredible amount of depth to Fear & Dagger without compromising the barbaric intensity that listeners come to Paleface for in the first place.

Being totally honest, before Fear & Dagger, I was—at best—indifferent to Paleface. That changed almost immediately after making my way through this release for the first time. Without losing any of the frantic, intense and primal aggression that defines their musical dynamic while managing to grow and create and an immersive experience, Paleface have created one of the most emotionally relevant and intriguing beatdown releases to date—something I never thought I’d type. Despite solemn subject matter and emotional relevance, throughout Fear & Dagger’s hour-plus runtime, the listener is trampled, steamrolled, flattened, eviscerated, devoured and regurgitated without remorse or second thought.

For Fans Of: Bodysnatcher, Traitors, World of Pain, Desolated, Emmure
By: Connor Welsh