Album: In Darkness
As a species, we have a curious relationship with the dark. It’s exhilarating to some, bordering on sexy or fetishized. Some thrive in the darkness, lust for it and yearn to dwell solely within it. The dark becomes solace, a place they feel that sense of calm and comfort that they’ve spent a lifetime of daylight chasing. For others, it’s terrifying. The dark has become a place they relegate their fears, resentment, anger and aggression to. It’s a breeding place for negativity—for animosity towards oneself and others. It’s paralyzing, a kind of quilt that swathes you, covering every inch of your skin in a cold, clammy sweat. The dark, darkness, whatever—it’s all these things because it’s mysterious and intangible. It’s one of very few things that doesn’t have a texture, taste, color or form. It consumes, dumping your hopes and fears into a void without bottom that cannot be filled.
So if darkness appeals to us because of its mystery, then Varials’ In Darkness is about to shine one hell of a light on it. The band’s sophomore full-length release is unlike anything they’ve put forth yet, serving as their most diverse, dismal, brooding and—yes—dark release to date. Adding grit, grime and some melancholy post-metallic influence into their backbone of brutalizing metalcore, In Darkness sees Varials stepping outside of a box defined by conventional genre standards and expectations to create something both incredible and incredibly true to themselves.
I may as well get it out of the way with the first sentence of the proper review—In Darkness is as hard as nails. Varials are still relentless, they are still heavy and they are still ultra-aggressive. IF you were here because you were hoping for a record in line with “The Love Machine,” then I guess you’re going to be a little disappointed—but if you were here to make sure that the Varials that brought us Failure//Control and Pain Again are still alive and kickin’, you can rest assured that they are—Hell, probably even more blunt and brazen now than ever. From the opening salvos of “Wound,” through “Bleeding” and “I Against I” and down to the closing seconds of “Maze,” percussionist Sean Rauchut and bassist Mike Foley bring the same bouncy form of beatdown-infused-metalcore that ran amok on Pain Again. On In Darkness, Foley’s bass went from being a “nice bonus” to an absolute stalwart for the band’s dynamic. “Bleeding” nearly depends on Foley to hit as hard as it does, while eve the more mellow “The Love Machine” sees Foley’s thick grooves bolstering the arid, atmospheric ambience the track boasts. Meanwhile, Rauchut’s drums—often a centerpiece for Varials’ soundscape—remain as riveting. Where Pain Again saw Rauchut’s ride bell getting a whole lotta lovin, here, his entire kit sees adoration, especially (and it couldn’t go without mentioning) the use of the splash cymbal on “The Love Machine.” Rauchut’s talents peak with the increased influence from less heavy styles of playing on In Darkness, giving each song even more percussive energy to be built from by guitarists James Hohenwarter and Mitchell Rogers. Hohenwarter and Rogers’ playing is markedly less predictable on the 15-track journey that is In Darkness than ever before. Where the first four cuts see the duo roaring out of the gate like a bat out of Hell, other songs—“Romance,” “The Love Machine” to name a few—are a little more on the mellow side, relying on atmosphere over aggression. That said, with fifteen tracks—twelve discarding the three interludes—and two “softer” ones, there is still ten tracks of canned, pure, no filler, no preservative whoop ass ready for the listener.
Wait, wait, wait you might be thinking—all this change is just too much. I want the Varials I know and love. You know, the one without singing. I get it—change is scary, yadda yadda—but lets not forget that leading up to the release of Failure//Control, when Varials first switched up their sound, it brought us one of the best contemporary metalcore acts we have today. Feeling better? If not, there’s more good news—the vocals of frontman Travis Tabron are, for the most part, unchanged from his previous offerings. Where his lyricism is infinitely more refined (seen more on the first interlude, “(fear),” where he explains the loose concept that divides the album into sections), his vocals still go right for the throat and leave little room in the mix for mercy. “South of One” is one of his finest offerings yet, while his work on “Deathsong” sees Tabron using a couple styles the listener hasn’t yet had privy to. This is all, of course, independent of the “singing” sections on “The Love Machine” and “Romance,” which are yet another way that Varials push the envelope. In Darkness is, essentially, split into four different sections which seem to reflect different emotional and mental states. While the first quarter is dark, insidious and primal, as the record progresses, feelings and emotions morph, giving the last couple songs a distinctly different feeling from the first couple songs without making anything sound forced. Tabron’s work throughout In Darkness isn’t an enormous step from Varials’ previous releases, however, the ways in which it is different are enough to add a whole new dimension to the band’s robust dynamic.
In Darkness is—in my mind—what I want to think of when I hear someone tell me a band has “matured.” Is it different? Yes. Is there singing where there wasn’t before? Sure—but is it still true to the band’s core sound? Absolutely. While Varials opted for a unique choice on production—giving everything a grungy, bordering on fuzzy overcoat, what lies beneath remains as solid and shimmering as polished platinum. Varials took a number of small risks frequently enough and with enough balls-out courage to make In Darkness feel like it could be from a whole new band, even though ultimately, past the distortion, the wilin’ music videos, singing and introspective concept, In Darkness isn’t only a record by Varials, it is the most Varials thing the band has ever written.
For Fans Of: Born a New, Counterparts, Knocked Loose, Vatican
By: Connor Welsh