REVIEW: Within the Ruins – Halfway Human [2017]

Artist: Within the Ruins
Album: Halfway Human

I’m not a gambling man, but I’m willing to bet that, if you’re reading this, you’re probably a human being (sorry aliens and/or extraordinarily intelligent primates). That means there are innate traits you possess that give you the quality of humanity; not just the bipedal, upright posture and ability to walk, talk and emote, but the ability to show empathy and concern—to love, care and heal, things we typically associate with what separates “us” from “the animals.”
But what happens when that psychological element of our development goes awry? Our prominently developed ego and superego regress, leaving little more than a primitive, bloodthirsty id, satisfied only when it has acted on its most base and reflexive instincts—hunt, kill, feed and fornicate. What happens when we become just as much ruthless, ravenous animal as we are careful, cautious and calculating humans?
The latest full-length release by Massachusetts-based technical metalcore act Within the Ruins is what happens: enter Halfway Human. An album that is just as technical and mind-numbingly intricate as a graduate level calculus course, yet raw and raunchy as Mother Nature on her menses, Halfway Human is an uncompromising display of Within the Ruins as they return from a somewhat prolonged and more-silent-than-usual break since the release of their previous album, Phenomena. Still chock-full of riffs and breakdowns, yet melodic and catchy at times that are completely unexpected, Halfway Human is a different kind of Within the Ruins from anything we’ve witnessed previously—drawing a fine line between the band’s technical prowess and more primitive and primordial influences.
This culmination of humanity and horrendous aggression is present in he cast soundscape that is Halfway Human’s musicianship. From “Shape-Shifter,” through “Incomplete Harmony,” around the circuitous and dizzying fourth installment of the Ataxia saga and to the last seconds of “Treadstone,” Within the Ruins retain their truly signature sound while, for the first time since Invade, really adding something new to their dynamic. Percussionist Kevin McGuill is the keystone to the band’s energetic attack on the listener’s head—his candor both brutalizing on “Shape-Shifter,” yet flashy and laden with bizarre fills and blitzing speed on “Sky Splitter.” Songs like “Ataxia IV,” however, see McGuill serving as more than a drummer, but rather, the heart of Within the Ruins’ sound. “Ataxia IV”—being the latest (and highly competitive entry for “strongest”) addition to the series of songs—does not disappoint when it comes to instrumental intricacy. McGuill sets the vivacious and ferocious pulse for bassist Paolo Galang to keep up with; something Galang does with expertise. Galang adds depth and dissonance to McGuill’s drive and energy, as true on the penultimate song as it is on the opening number. However, where the duo provide an incredible low end and percussive backbone, that is only a portion of what makes Within the Ruins a powerful driving force and appealing to their sprawling fan base. Enter guitarist Joe Cocchi, whose skills are practically synonymous with Within the Ruins and their reign over their hybridization of technical metalcore and deathcore. Cocchi still shreds—he does on “Shape-Shifter” and he does on “Treadstone,” and he does on everything in between. Cocchi’s fretwork is as lacerating as it ever was on hits like “Objective Reality,” yet oddly catchy and diving into more melodic and moderate metallic pacing on “Death of the Rockstar” and “Bittersweet,” fully defining the instrumental extent of Within the Ruins’ dynamic expansion since their last release.
Where moments of fast-paced harmony and hectic, rock-infused, heavier than hell metalcore and deathcore catch the listener off guard and inflict whiplash by means of double-take (and headbanging), the listener’s neck is snapped right in half by the band’s vocal growth. Heard on “Death of a Rockstar” and throughout sparse moments of Halfway Human’s latter half, frontman Tim Goergan includes cleanly sung vocals into his arsenal of gritty growls and shocking screams. So much of Halfway Human is spent in just the way the listener would expect (and probably want) Within the Ruins to sound—a chaotic display of crushing musicianship topped off by Goergan’s gruesome bellows and growls. However “Treadstone” sees that change, with a metallic, cleanly sung bridge similar to moments of melody heard as aural freckles throughout the remainder of the album. Some of these are better than others—where “Treadstone” is a solid track where Goergan’s vocal efforts shine brightly, “Death of the Rockstar” stumbles and fumbles in its search for being truly memorable, and others—like “Ivory Tower” fall in that boat too. So, where Halfway Human is a departure from the same-old Within the Ruins in many great ways, some of these ways are only halfway effective.
Halfway Human isn’t the same Within the Ruins we’ve heard before—if I’ve not yet made that clear, I probably never will—but that’s okay. Fans since the “Tractor Pull” days, I’m right there with you; I still can’t get enough of Creature in its gritty and raw majesty—but change is good and Within the Ruins are proof. The band manage to switch things up enough to sound fresh while still keeping a death grip on their own distinct and devastating sound. Does it have moments that maybe aren’t as awesome as others? Yeah—it isn’t as consistently crushing and intense as albums like their masterpieces Invade or Phenomena. That said, it is far from a collapse or a death knell from the band—as it delivers brilliance in ways more varied and creatively structured than any other Within the Ruins release yet, making it well worth the listener’s time and attention.

For Fans Of: Oceano, Currents, The Last Ten Seconds of Life, Boris the Blade
By: Connor Welsh