REVIEW: The Acacia Strain – Slow Decay [2020]

Artist: The Acacia Strain

Album: Slow Decay

         You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. That’s the saying, right? That is to say that the actions and habits we let define us in our youth are things we carry for the rest of time…right? Well, If that saying holds any water, then one of heavy music’s heaviest hitters is the exception that proves the rule. Ending 2019 with a surprise foray into blackened sludge and doom metal moieties with It Comes in Waves, The Acacia Strain kickstarted 2020 with a bang—a bang that would echo many times over with the slew of singles released leading up to the release of Slow Decay. Slow Decay sees the band launch head-first back into the crunchy, gritty, ruthless brand of deathcore that made them a staple within the heavy music community (not to say It Comes In Waves wasn’t incredible in its own right). Some of the band’s catchiest and most creative displays of no-holds-barred aggression to date, Slow Decay is The Acacia Strain doing what they do best—and doing it, quite possibly, the best that they ever have—to the tune of global meltdown and autophagic annihilation; a tune that should feel eerily fitting to the state of affairs in 2020.

         While It Comes in Waves was met with marked critical acclaim as well as an overwhelmingly positive response from the band’s long-time fanbase, many—including those who loved The Acacia Strain’s foray into more metallic straits—longed for more of the band they know and love. That iteration of The Acacia Strain reigns supreme on Slow Decay. While it’s easy and comfortable to try and compare the band’s latest offering to existing pieces in their discography—something I’ve found myself doing time and time again with this act, and others—the truth is that since Continent, each release has had its own unique atmosphere, giving each record of their a different personality, if you will. The same is true with Slow Decay, where Kevin Boutot’s percussion oscillates between precise and pulverizing on “Inverted Person” to sludgy and crushing on “I breathed in the smoke deeply…,” and the remainder of the band’s instrumentation adapts to match. Songs like “Feed a Pidgeon, Breed a Rad” and “Seeing God” see Boutot balancing beefy, huge breakdowns with more sinister groove-tinted patterns, as bassist Griffin Landa adds thickness and punch to each plodding thud of the kick drum. Others—“Chhinnamasta” and “I breathed in the smoke deeply…” come to mind—see Landa’s bass playing a bigger, more integral role in crafting The Acacia Strain’s most ambitious and atmospheric brand of bone-busting -core yet. Here, Landa works side by side with guitarists Devin Shidaker and Tom Smith to create songs that feel so spacious they could easily be their own sprawling galaxies—yet with all that atmosphere, still manage to pack punches furious enough to knock Mike Tyson on his ass. Shidaker and Smith surprise even further, keeping the listener guessing with songs like “Inverted Person” and “Birds of Paradise, Birds of Prey” which go for the throat without remorse, casting asunder the massive amounts of atmosphere for an abysmally aggressive attack on the listener’s wits. There’s probably a way to describe Slow Death in the context of The Acacia Strain’s previous records; maybe 1/3rd Coma Witch, 4/11ths Death is the Only Mortal, so on and so forth, but the more accurate way is to suggest—no, state—that The Acacia Strain have once more captured the pivotal components of their signature sound and added something new and intangible—that aforementioned personality—to make it an enthralling and mesmerizing listen.

         Throughout The Acacia Strain’s impressive tenure, one element has remained a constant—frontman Vincent Bennett. Bennett’s voice needs no real introduction or description, and his growth throughout The Acacia Strain’s discography speaks (or screams) for itself. Slow Decay sees him at some of his most contemplative points in the band’s history, with songs like “I breathed in the smoke deeply” and “Feed a Pigeon, Breed a Rat” combining tried-and-true tongue-in-cheek lyricism with metaphors and musings regarding existence and the futility thereof. Others, like “Seeing God” are more outright aggressive, with Bennett’s voice lashing out as such, using his distinct unique roars to bombard the listener with abrasive, immolating hatred. Bennett’s ability to blend his voice and lyrics in such a way to perfectly match his soundscape is a skill he’s spent well over a decade perfecting, and Slow Decay witnesses him at the apex of that aspect of his craft, perhaps with the assistance of several remarkable guest vocalists. What sets Slow Decay apart from The Acacia Strain’s other records, in one way, is the relative abundance of guest appearances, with each adding more depth and dynamism to whichever track they grace. Where this works brilliantly on most tracks—“Seeing God” and “I breathed in the smoke deeply…” among them—it also falls short slightly with “One Thousand Painful Stings,” which doesn’t see quite enough Courney LaPlante, or “The Lucid Dream,” which doesn’t see quite enough of Bennett. Even with these criticisms in mind, The Acacia Strain have failed to put a bad track on Slow Decay, and even while they’re imperfect, each of the aforementioned guest performances does nothing but amplify the extent to which The Acacia Strain’s dynamism is one of the most subtle but overwhelmingly effective in modern heavy music.

         Slow Decay—or really just D E C A Y—hit the mark in just about every criteria. Its roll out mirrored the attitude and message of the record perfectly; bleak, looming and ominous, with new tidbits of terror dropping every month or so. Heaviness and aggression don’t even need to be inquired about—it’s assumed, rightfully so, that the quintet earn ace scores in those fields. Slow Decay surprises the listener, however, in how dynamic, catchy and clever it is in its approach to ruthless, bitter and oppressive heaviness. Just about every song will find a way to get stuck in the listener’s head, and just about every song manages to simultaneously have a segment that makes the listener question if they ever really knew what it meant to be heavy—sometimes, those two parts are one in the same. At the end of the day, The Acacia Strain have proven themselves as overlords of contemporary heavy music, and Slow Decay is among the biggest moves they’ve made in asserting their devastating dominion.


For Fans Of: Xibalba, Oceano, Fit For An Autopsy

By: Connor Welsh