REVIEW: VCTMS/Falsifier – Misery In Death [SPLIT EP/2020]

Artists: VCTMS and Falsifier

Album: Misery in Death – Split EP

            Death looks different for different people under different circumstances. For many, under the right conditions, death is relief—an end to suffering either short or drawn out over years. For others, it is a mystery; a constant topic of careful contemplation which haunts and possesses the mind arduously, like an unsolved riddle. For others still, the only thing death is promised to provide is pain. Cold, constant, crushing pain, and the misery that follows suit. Now, personally, I don’t necessarily know that I fall into any one of these categories—but I can absolutely tell you that the last few split records I’d been asked to listen to left me feeling enraptured in misery and pain not too dissimilar from that mentioned above. Indeed, more often than not, split releases feel like a convenient means by which a couple artists can drop some B-side tracks and try to make a couple bucks out of sub-par material. Fortunately for us (and them), VCTMS and Falsifier are not like most bands. Misery in Death sees both bands embracing a sonic departure from their standard fare to create something that, rather than a couple B-sides, sounds like a sampling from a different side of both acts altogether. Misery in Death, thusly, is everything one could want out of a hybrid release from two of metalcore’s underground champions, complete with catchy one-liners, crushing breakdowns and gut-churning grooves to keep fans of all things heavy enthralled.

            VCTMS erupted out of the Chicago area around the same time that heavy music was graced with some of the most infamous Midwest metalcore acts around. While the band’s early material definitely fell in the same vein as those acts—Villains, Sworn In, Barrier and Kingmaker—they always had something different about them. That difference blossomed into a truly unique sound over the course of Volume II and Volume III as the band forged their own nu-metal infused path through the thickets of metalcore. Now, on Misery in Death, the band take a sharp right turn for darker, heavier territory. Percussionist Meredith Henderson is as proficient as ever—if not more so—in hammering out bouncy, bold patterns studded with flashy fills and quick handwork. “Hell is Empty” is excellent evidence of this, as Henderson pounds out what sound to be some of her most intricate work to date. Conversely, “Weak Willed” sees Henderson’s drumming take a more mellow turn throughout much of the song, leaving guitarist Ryan Walter plenty of room to dominate the song with spine-tingling atmosphere. This doesn’t last for long, however, as Walter’s fretwork is quick to take on a much more ominous tune as “Weak Willed” progresses into murkier, more overtly hardcore-influenced territory. Where VCTMS’ work on Misery in Death takes such a drastic deviation from that of Volume III: Halfway Happy is just that—less emphasis on quick, catchy nu-infused leads and effects and more constantly abrasive riffs, grooves and breakdowns that showcase more prominent metallic and hardcore influences throughout the band. This attitude Is mirrored in the vocal work from frontman John Matalone, whose tone and register has expanded doubly. Matalone’s work—especially on “I Am Death” and “Weak Willed”—sees him using a predominantly gruff and low tone to amplify the more political statements made by the lyrics he screams. This is especially true on “Weak Willed,” a steadfast social anthem for those oppressed unduly, especially by the police. All things considered, these subtle differences scattered throughout Misery in Death add up to giving listeners a whole new side of VCTMS that is both refreshing and ruthless.

            Overwhelming and aggressive—while new to VCTMS’ repertoire—is nothing new when it comes to the Canadian crushers in Falsifier. Where World Demise and the rest of the band’s back catalogue provides an abundance of low, slow and lurid brutality, the band’s work on Misery in Death follows the direction indicated by their most recent single, “Crooked Teeth.” Indeed, Misery in Death sees Falsifier at their most pissed (and also their fastest), with percussionist Simon Kaarid and bassist Alexander Skinner at the helm. On “Dog Eat Dog,” Kaarid hammers away, transitioning with ease from pulverizing breakdowns to patterns that would make a paraplegic get up and two-step. Likewise, Skinner’s rumbling bass does what it does best—add beef and heft to every angle of Falsifier’s dynamic. This is especially true during “Lose Cause,” where Skinner’s rumbling bass is heard sharply under the raunchy grooves provided from guitarists Colin Giofu and Blaine Kuzemczak. Throughout Falsifier’s half of Misery in Death, Giofu and Kuzemczak add heaping helpings of heavy-handed hardcore to the band’s thick, acrid mix of metalcore and deathcore, giving “Dog Eat Dog” a sharp punch, and “Lost Cause” a distinctly catchy candor. The former sees Giofu and Kuzemczak working diligently with Kaarid, while the latter lends more attention to Skinner’s bass tone and pronounced low end. All the while, even in spite of the relatively up-beat nature of Falsifier’s sound, the listeners are greeted with a familiar voice: that of Aiden Versteegh. Versteegh, who had given us his finest work to date on World Demise, impresses once more; not only with diversity, but with intonation and pronunciation. Even his most visceral bellows and brees (see: “Dog Eat Dog”) feel smooth and can (mostly) be understood with relatively little head-scratching. Likewise, his work on Falsifier’s rendition of “Misery Blooms” sees him stretching out from his comfort zone, working with quick vocal patterns and sharp, shrill screams that lend a dark, different twist to a VCTMS fan-favorite. While Falsifier’s shift in sound was predicted by their 2019 single, the manner in which they have flawlessly transfused that sound into a permanent component of their dynamic without sacrificing their core essence is nothing short of astounding.

            VCTMS and Falsifier are two bands for which I have an overwhelming amount of love. Since their relative inceptions, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing how they have grown, matured and added to their sounds. But with this pleasure comes an incredibly high standard—for having known that they can do means failure to do so is doubly disappointing. This fear doubled down considering Misery in Death as a split release—a type of release I generally avoid. With that said, both bands have made something remarkable. Not only do their individual halves work excellently at showcasing their growth and sonic exploration as distinct acts, but the inclusion of each other’s music (VCTMS covering Falsifier, Falsifier covering VCTMS) is something I haven’t heard work so well since the Senses Fail/Man Overboard split from God knows when (I checked, turns out it was 2015 but feels like it was 20 years ago). With bigger releases from both bands on the horizon, Misery in Death unduly succeeds not only in tiding fans over, but in giving fans a look at different sides of each respective band.

VCTMS Half: 4.5/5

Falsifier Half: 4.5/5

Final Rating: 9.5/10

For Fans Of: Bodysnatcher, Kingmaker, Villains, Born a New, Degrader, Extortionist, Distinguisher

By: Connor Welsh