Since the dawn of human kind, we’ve had a fascination—or truthfully more of an obsession—with expanding and staking our claim. We’ve innovated roads, interstates, canals and vast motorways for vehicles to take us to exciting new places; however, long before roads and highways, we forged our own paths two feet wide and hundreds of miles long: trails. Foraging into the unknown with practically no idea what might be waiting for us, we pushed on—and in a similar fashion, Pennsylvanian metalcore act Trails do the same thing. Blending punchy hardcore with progressive metal and metalcore both, the band’s debut full-length effort, Sentinels, is a sturdy endeavor into the unpredictable wilderness that is heavy music. While the band may not be the first to travel the path that Sentinels lays out for the listener, Trails venture with visceral intensity and intense energy—giving fans of progressive metal, metalcore and hardcore all something to enjoy.
Sentinels is an instrumental whirlwind. There is hardly a second of calm to be found throughout the impressive almost-an-hour runtime—as every track is home to pummeling percussion, punchy bass grooves and punishing, scathing guitar. Drummer Mike Bradbury simply does not know what “subtlety” is—as every track sees him dominating with technically immaculate fills and fleet footwork that serves as a major point of interest for most songs. Even the otherwise mellow “Reflections” sees Bradbury bustling—whether it be with lengthy rolls and poly-fills or with rapid double kick strokes. Meanwhile, more comprehensively aggressive anthems, like “Return the Slab” or “Weakest Link” see Bradbury oscillating between bouncy, groovy patterns and straightforward metallic patterns, reliant on flying feet and skin-shredding blast beats. However, songs like “Weakest Link” see Bradbury’s stellar drumming accompanied by Jonah Luteman’s lurid, low bass—expertly echoing every thick smack of Bradbury’s kick drum. However, where Bradbury’s drumming is often a main focus of Trails’ dynamic, Luteman stays in the background, adding depth and punch to Sentinels by way of laying down a strong low end for guitarists Dave Geib and Sam Hart to shred atop. While Geib and Hart are strong guitarists—filling much of Sentinels with furiously fretted riffs and infectiously catchy grooves–many of the songs they write end up sounding very similar. While some songs—“Stimulant,” “Weakest Link” and “Reflections”—are very unique within the context of the album, many of the riffs and breakdowns seem to blend together, such that by the time the listener finishes “Oubliette,” they could swear they’ve heard the same quick little fill or transition into and out of a breakdown several times.
Where there is good and bad to Trails’ instrumental approach, the same can be said for their vocal dynamic. Sentinels is home to a positively excellent harsh vocal element, but also a cleanly sung voice that can either make or break the mood of a given track. The band’s primary vocalist, Jordan Sartor, is dynamic and diverse, boasting an impressive range that can hit low, slam-death gutturals and shrill, Chris Fronzak-esque rapped shrieks. “Weakest Link” and “Inertia” are two examples of his impeccable vocal expertise—as is the climax to “Justify.” However, the cleanly sung portions and some contributions from Luteman simply sound repetitive or as if they just don’t fit. Where songs like “Inertia” and “Oubliette” see the clean vocals working brilliantly, the cleanly sung portions of “Hawkeye” and “Kingmaker” vary from barely tolerable to cringeworthy. Even as the lyrics to the introduction of “Hawkeye” are almost painfully cliché, the crooned, forced clean vocals are even more torturous. For the most part, however, the clean vocals stay within a tastefully corny spectrum and the harsh vocals are constantly entertaining and immersive, redeeming the occasional cleanly sung misstep.
Sentinels is hit-or-miss—but mostly “hit,” with many songs successfully managing to be catchy and crushing in one fell swoop. While the chorus to “Kingmaker” makes the song hard to get through, and “Hawkeye” doesn’t start off on its best foot, Trails pull it together to make the most of their 14 track debut. All things considered, the single biggest flaw found within Sentinels is that, for an album nearing an hour in length, it is fairly repetitive, with many songs employing identical structures. Where there are 14 songs, perhaps only 7 to 9 are truly memorable (with the leaders being “Weakest Link,” “Return the Slab” and “Inertia,” which has an especially brilliant chorus)—meaning Trails could have easily trimmed some of the “fat” from their full-length album. However, what’s a journey without pitfalls and missteps? That’s exactly what Trails are—an adventure—one which just about every fan of extreme music should endure at least once.
For Fans Of: Periphery, Veil of Maya, August Burns Red, Texas in July
By: Connor Welsh