REVIEW: Strains – Redefine[d] [EP/2015]


Artist: Strains 

Album: Redefine[d] – EP


Like it or not, before you even begin listening to an album, you tend to make some sort of presumption based upon its name. If it has Poly- or Ometryin it, you tend to expect some thall-laden polyrhythms in your future. If it has a name like Engorging Putrified Foetal Remnants, chances are you’ll be disappointed if there aren’t more “brees” and “squees” than a bacon factory. Granted, some albums shock the listener, painting a picture with their titles that in no tangible manner represents the material within—but this isn’t the case with Strains’ breakout EP, Redefine[d]. These Belgian brutalizers run a risky gambit choosing such an ambitious name, but with a calculated blend of passion and aggression, they live up to it with ease. By splashing technicolor riffs and blackout-inducing breakdowns across a canvas of driving percussion, Strains have crafted an intelligent, immersive and intense experience that may, indeed, redefine how the listener draws a border between metal-and-death core.

Strains find themselves tip-toeing the border between thrashy, aggressive metalcore and melodic, malaise-tinted deathcore throughout Redefine[d]. On one hand, percussionist Simon Janssen is jarring and abrasive, colliding technical fills into catchy, crushing kick drum patterns that keep Strains roaring along like a well-oiled war machine. With an expertly tuned and produced kit, Janssen’s cymbals splash as brightly as the water plunging from Niagara Falls—yet his thick kick drum and fat, booming snare never fail to cut through the misty, airy cymbals, making each pattern and groove strong and full. “The Great Disconnect” is a great example of this—even as Janssen’s most rudimentary display of percussive prowess, his kit is like a 500-horsepower engine rumbling beneath Strains’ hood. Where he truly shines—at the climax to “Infinite,” or the ending portion of “The Great Disconnect”–he does so with the aid of bassist Lieven Casters. Casters casts a sprawling quilt of crushing groove over Janssen’s drumming to add extra depth to his punchy, quick kick drum and a deeper roar to his cannon-like snare. The two’s dynamic harmony can be heard at it’s finest nearing the end of the EP’s opening number, where Casters plods and rumbles along, weaving hither and to around Janssen’s strong percussive foundation. Strains find a majority of their ingenuity—and the odd amalgam of –core sub genres they blend to achieve it—at the hands of guitarists FrédericRoekens and Stef Oosterbos. Roekens and Oosterboes combine headbang-friendly riffs with eviscerating chugs and eerie atmosphere with the same talent that defined Martyr Defiled’s In/Shadows. Take “13-04,” for example. One moment, the duo are opening the trash with a catchy, gritty groove. The next moment, they soar skywards, trading duties on a solo that seems vaguely reminiscent of early thrash-metal, throwing in darker hints of death metal to bring it back down to earth. Furthermore, contrast this with “White Chains,” a track that spends almost half of its run time with Oosterbos and Roekens’ heads in the clouds—only to send them diving back to the ground with a completely devastating combination of breakdowns and grooves.

Where Strains consistently push boundaries and limitations on traditional genre constraints with their instrumentation, their vocal element is markedly more conservative—which is not to be mistaken with ineffective or lackluster. Frontman Maarten Janssen relies on a gruff, meaty roar that is raw and ever-so-slightly shrill for a majority of Redefine[d]. It would be folly to mistake his lack of variety for weakness, however, as his energy and stamina are second-to-none, as he completely dominates every track Strains has to offer. His incredible endurance and strong, aggressive voice add intensity and heat to even the most placid and harmless moments of Redefine[d], whether it’s the anger throughout “Acceptance” that closes the EP, or the hefty, harsh vocals throughout “White Chains” that keep the more ethereal parts of the track grounded, Janssen’s vocals are immense, and live up to the high standards set by Strains’ splendid musicianship.

It is with graceful, glorious ease that Strains are able to weave back and forth between lacerating heaviness and calming, spirit-soothing softness. Exploding from a subtle, surreal introduction during “The Great Disconnect,” or catching the listener off-guard during the dream-like interlude of clarity during “White Chains,” Strains leave flecks of harmony and melody throughout the maelstrom that is Redefine[d]. What’s more, with a roar that sounds frighteningly similar to that of Martyr Defiled’s Matthew Jones, Maarten Janssen gives a steady baseline to Strains’ dynamic that easily smooths over the transitions from grisly brutality to drifting ethereality. Because of this, Redefine[d] is a varied release that touches on raunchiness, ravaging intensity and intriguing calm—all without feeling forced or haphazard.

It’s a bold statement to say that Strains redefine any of the genres they pick and choose from on their debut EP. However, they certainly redefine how the listener might draw lines between these genres, as Strains are an amorphous, enigmatic quintet that supply ample evidence to support the claim that heavy music isn’t played out yet.



For Fans Of: Martyr Defiled, Architects, Aurora, Far Beyond the Sunrise

By: Connor Welsh