REVIEW: Sentinels – Collapse by Design [2021]

Artist: Sentinels

Album: Collapse by Design

            As a species, we have prided ourselves on progression—from ape-like hominids to (what we perceive to be) the apex of intelligence on our planet, everywhere we look is a reminder of what we, as a species, have become. Towering monuments, sprawling cityscapes, cloud-popping skyscrapers—the whole modern Utopia—a testament to what we’re capable of, and what we have crafted in an effort to leave an impression in our societies and history books. But it doesn’t all last—in fact, next to none of it does. Things are routinely destroyed and replaced; Mother Nature makes a mockery of even our boldest man-made bastions; things invariably return to dust. This cycle of growth and decay—the very notion of nature itself—shines on the groundbreaking full length record by New Jersey progressive metalcore masters Sentinels. Collapse by Design is a riveting, crushing masterwork that sounds like everything progressive heavy music should sound like. It is both crunchy yet clean—gritty while crisp, and boldly brutalizing while awe-inspiringly beautiful. Collapse by Design is artful expression by juxtaposition of the genre’s greatest and most opposing qualities that takes my weathered ears back to the first time I heard the likes of Structures’ All of the Above or Veil of Maya’s The Common Man’s Collapse. That is to say that it is a record which instantly becomes a classic—something that will shape the genre’s future for the years to come.

            There is, without any doubt or hesitation, something for everyone to be found within the impressive 40 minute run time of Collapse by Design. Where some tracks are standout examples of explosive aggression (“Tyrant” and “Epitaph” come to mind), others are a more balanced blend of technicality, atmosphere and the almighty breakdown. Percussionist Dave Rucki drives the record with his immaculate prowess behind the kit. Songs like lead single “Inertia” were hits before they were even released (see: the 30 second clip of recording the mind-bending drum fill at the tracks conclusion from nearly one year before it ever saw the light of day), whereas his work on the mesmerizing “Albatross” sees him showing off in more subtle ways. Rucki’s drumming—while a distinct and ear-catching element—is not the only instrumental component of Sentinels to love, as guitarists Chris Dombrowski and Thomas Cardone shine just as brightly. Once more, the listener turns to “Albatross,” and its quirky, oddly-timed breakdowns with eerie lead fretwork overtop—or “Atlas,” an atmospheric juggernaut that sees the band embracing a newfound love for ethereality. Similarly, “Tyrant” and “Embers” are raunchy, hard-hitting cuts that see Dombrowski and Cardone working with bassist Danny Cruz to obliterate the listener with wave after wave of megaton groove. The fashion in which all the members of Sentinels manage to cohesively transition from spastic, jarring dissonance (“Epitaph”) to progressive perfection (“Inertia”) and into more adventurous, atmospheric territory (“Atlas”) without missing a beat—or more—sounding forced is next-to-done, and serves only as a further testament to the bands’ greatness.

            Just as Sentinels’ instrumental approach to progressive metalcore is comprehensive, so is their vocal element. Frontman Josh Hardiman is a dynamo, lashing out with a great variety of shrill screams and grisly bellows. Stand out vocal moments like those on “Inertia” and “Tyrant” show the listener that Hardiman could summon a mosh pit from thin air, while his variety on “To Wither Away” and “Obsolete” are nothing short of jaw dropping. Across twelve tracks (well, fine, technically eleven), Hardiman shines without failure or even so much as a hiccup. In a band whose claim to fame is mostly instrumental by way of Rucki’s drumming and furious fretwork from Dombrowski and Cardone, Hardiman carves out a hefty niche, which is a feat unto itself. But within that niche, Hardiman excels, providing a comprehensive approach to thick, grisly vocals without skimping or chasing gimmicky styles.

            I could continue to gush about the journey that is Collapse by Design for another page or three, but the point is that it is the most broadly-spanning, comprehensive-yet-concise display of progressive metalcore the genre has seen all year, and in many years before. In the months that I’ve been frankly abusing this record, it still fails to grow old, and small subtleties within the release still manage to catch my ear. Sentinels have created a mosh-friendly record that also manages to stimulate the mind, and, similarly, might even prompt someone to pick up an instrument—because if the leads on “Albatross” don’t make you want to pick up a guitar, or if the drumming on “Inertia” doesn’t make you want to go pick up a Costco drum kit, then I’m not sure what to tell you. Collapse by Design is an immaculate release that instantly skyrockets Sentinels to the level of the genre’s greats, earning instant classic status before the listener can even finish the full record.


For Fans Of: Struc/tures, Veil of Maya, Vildhjarta, Reflections, Northlane, Invent Animate

By: Connor Welsh