REVIEW: VCTMS – Halfway Happy [2018]

Artist: VCTMS

Album: Halfway Happy


Life is compromise. 

As tired a cliche it is, it’s true—I mean, Hell, it’s a stereotype for a reason—it’s the truth. Selfish as it seems, our days are spent making negotiations with strangers and with ourself to try and feel just a little less miserable. To call it a rat race is misleading, if only because the term “race” implies there can be a winner, when in reality there really can’t. We work jobs we don’t like for people we can’t stand to get money we don’t even really know will help; we just blindly assume.  

Every day we’re just trying to get closer. To be Halfway Happy. And if you don’t ascribe to that now, you will by the time you finish the first track of the third installment in Illinois metalcore act VCTMS’ impressive discography, aptly titled Vol. III: Halfway Happy. On their most intense and jaw-dropping effort to date, VCTMS go even further Inside the Mind, bearing every ounce of their collectively damaged psyche to create an experience unlike any other that can be found in contemporary heavy music. Groovy, crushing, catchy and laced with lurid, loathsome hip-hop infusions and immense guest vocalists alike, VCTMS have crafted their magnum opus in Halfway Happy, which turns out to be all-the-way incredible. 

Halfway Happy is VCTMS’ most ambitious work to date, expanding on their overt nu-metal influence while simultaneously drawing from industrial and hip-hop elements to add a sharper hook to the innately catchy nature of their crushing style of metalcore. Where Vol. II was an exponential improvement over the already excellent Vol. I, the group’s third installment and second full-length album follows suit, keeping the listener hooked from the eerie opening notes of “Ask Yourself,” through tracks like “Tape//Worm” and “Stasis” and to the very end of “Was It Worth It?” Throughout the record, percussionist, songwriter and occasional vocalist Meredith Henderson continues to outdo herself, pouring every ounce of her essence into tracks like “Beautifully//Depressing,” “Halfway//Happy” and the album’s haunting opening number. Where her work as a lyricist and vocalist is enhanced from her rare appearances on VCTMS’ previous release, her drumming has following, intimately blending punchy and straightforward metallic patterns in with quick fills and unusual patterns, establishing her prowess as a percussionist as aptly as she does with her vocal and songwriting skills. Heavier tracks—“Crippling//Form” and many of the cuts from the album’s first half—see Henderson’s drumming as a foundation for the bass (written primarily by vocalist John Matalone) and Ryan Walter’s contributions via the guitar to VCTMS’ immolating instrumentation. The bass is gritty and thick to add heft to Henderson’s percussion, while Walter dominates with everything from razor-wire leads to blunt-force-trauma-inducing breakdowns. “Cognitive//Closure” and “A Lonely Place Of Dying” highlight this element of the band’s dynamic excellently, while the album’s title track and “Beautifully//Depressing” show off their ability to slow it down and create gloomy, brooding and mellow hip-hop infused tracks. At the end of the day, the opening sentence holds true—Vol. III is VCTMS’ best work yet, much in part to the group’s collective instrumental effort.  

Henderson and Walter aren’t the only ones who stepped it up on Halfway Happy, however. Frontman John Matalone’s contribution sees him truly coming into his own element, less concerned with satiating the needs of VCTMS’ early fan base and more concerned with letting loose a vocal onslaught true to his own style and nature. Where Vol. II felt a little as if Matalone was holding back and playing more to VCTMS’ established reputation and less to his own ability, Vol. III changes that entirely. Matalone steps far and away out of his comfort zone to deliver devastating track after track, each as vocally brilliant as they are emotionally eviscerating. Tracks “Crippling//Form” stand as proof of Matalone’s ability to stand alone, where many of the other cuts from Vol III see the addition of many of heavy music’s biggest names—and while there remain several to be heard, “Stasis” and “Tape//Worm” remain two of the frontrunners where that is concerned. Even with the addition of several stellar guest performances, Matalone’s skills still shine, showing off low bellows, shrill screams and everything in between to appease fans from any subset within the heavy music spectrum. What’s more—Matalone’s skill extends beyond vocal prowess, as Halfway Happy sees him working to write both bass and guitar, bringing another unique twist to VCTMS’ dynamic. 

Vol. III: Halfway Happy is a masterpiece within the realm of contemporary metalcore. Intelligent, diverse, heavier than Hell and catchier than Chlamydia and as emotional as The Notebook and A Dog’s Purpose combined, VCTMS’ latest record is simply not one to be missed. Boasting a mastery of the breakdown, copious amounts of crushing leads and riffs and segments of head-boppin’ hip-hop mixed between grisly grooves and elements of ethereal atmosphere alike, this record has something for everyone, ensuring everyone finishes Halfway Happy with a full-on smile.  



For Fans Of: Barrier, Yuth Forever, Slipknot, Soulkeeper 

By: Connor Welsh