Bleeding Through – The Great Fire (2012)

Posted: February 3, 2012 in Music

Southern California has always been a hot bed for music, so it’s somewhat of a mystery as to why Orange County’s Bleeding Through hasn’t received more attention than they have. As 12-year veterans to the modern metalcore scene, the band has endured countless lineup changes, a revolving door of record labels, and what feels like an endless amount of supporting slots on tour after tour.

But why the band has yet to climb to the top of the heap is something even this reviewer has a hard time understanding. Admittedly, their first six albums have been mired with the type of ‘hit or miss’ quality that has definitely split the critics down the middle, but let’s be honest – most metalcore shares that quality. You can debate that they may be better than a lot of the ‘talked about’ bands of the genre like As I Lay Dying, All That Remains, or Killswitch Engage – and I, for one, would believe you. But the fact remains that Brandan Schieppati and company have settled in as residents in the shadows of the rest of the scene.

A lot of people – fans and critics alike – claim that the band ‘shot their load’ with 2003’s release This Is Love, This Is Murderous, and with reason. That album still stands out as the pinnacle of their career, but for me, the latter efforts have had plenty to talk about as well (and are not nearly the disasters some critics have claimed).

My guess is that a lot of pundits have had a hard time grasping the transformation of the band over the last few albums. You see, the band started as a pretty straight-forward metalcore band (with a heavy emphasis towards hardcore), and the fan base they built was based on pit-inducing, blast-beat anthems. But as the band introduced new member after new member, it was inevitable that the influences they brought with them would eventually rise to the surface.

Such is the case with keyboardist Marta Peterson. Marta joined the band at the height of their popularity in 2003, and brought with her a quiet love for industrial, gothic metal and black metal music. Slowly, these elements have trickled in to the last few albums, and on the band’s seventh and latest release – The Great Fire – this influence is more prominent than ever. Sure, Bleeding Through is still a metalcore band, but the experimental direction they take from time to time makes them one of the more interesting units out there. Not often do you hear black metal elements and haunting keyboards mixed with smash-mouth hardcore ones, and maybe that’s where the distraction lies for this band amongst fans.

Even that, however, doesn’t explain it. After all, relative newcomers Winds of Plague combine almost the exact same elements, yet have leapfrogged Bleeding Through on their way to the top of the metal scene – so there has to be something else. Whatever the intangible is, it has been hard for the band to shake loose from it. Proof is the fact that the new release was actually written and recorded without the band even having a contract (they’ve since re-signed with Rise, who distributed their self-titled release). So call it what you want, but the band is determined to keep fighting the good fight and making their own style of music. Which leads us to The Great Fire

The album opens with an intro called “The March” which is exactly what the title suggests. Rhythmic beats and crunching guitars coupled with some mood-inducing strings sets the tone well for the onslaught of the albums second track, “Faith and Fire.” Fast and furious, the track implements plenty of the aforementioned grab bag of styles. There’s plenty of hardcore here, but plenty of blackened elements as well. It’s somewhere between Sick of It All and Behemoth, and is the perfect example of the band’s current style.

“Goodbye to Death” continues the trend, with gothic-inspired keyboards sharing the cadence with death metal growls and furious drums and guitars. It’s the perfect marriage of styles, but again finds the band in the awkward position of being stuck between genres throughout the track. I love it, but it’s one of those instances that will keep the fan base and critics talking.

I thought we were going to finally get a true hardcore song in the form of  “Final Hours”, which just flat-out blisters the first 30 seconds, but again gives way to a more European metal style with cleaner vocals and heavy keyboards. It felt like I was listening to Hatebreed in one side of my headphones and Dimmu Borgir in the other. Unfortunately, the transition between styles doesn’t always work here, as it gets pretty muddy about halfway through at times. When it’s brutal, it’s brutal as fuck, and when it tries to be a little more ‘pretty’, it works pretty well – but the extremes may have been a little too far apart here.

“Starving Vultures” pulls the opposite of the previous track, leading in with the black metal style and sliding in to the hardcore breakdowns along the way. This time, though it works flawlessly – and the styles mesh neatly into one of the strongest tracks on the disc.

The bass and guitars get simplified and turned up to 11 on “Everything You Love Is Gone” which is simply a great metal song. There’s not a lot of back and forth between styles (it’s mostly hardcore throughout) – it just relentlessly kicks your ass for the entire 1:48.

“Walking Dead” opens with a beautiful piano intro that gives you just enough time to catch your breath before blistering ahead with a simple, yet powerful arrangement. Brian Leppke and Dave Nassie have some good fills here, but it’s mostly a lot of chuggah-chuggah riffing, leaving plenty of room for some pretty strong lyrical content from Schieppati. Listen to this one a couple of times in a row to grasp the message – you’ll be glad you did.

While most of this album so far has been pretty strong, the centerpiece has to be “Devil and Self Doubt.” It’s another mix of styles, but is done so absolutely perfect that you barely notice. The hardcore jocks may not fully embrace it, nor will the corpse-paint goths, but this is the apex of anything this band has ever done. Guitar fills playing the same notes as piano tickles are only a small piece of this intricate masterpiece. We are even treated to the rare ‘guitar solo’ that only enhances this already-perfect track.

“Step Back In Time” teases at a bit of ‘doom metal’, and is easily one of the hardest tracks on The Great Fire. It’s not very hardcore (if it is hardcore at all), but that doesn’t take away from its aggression. If anything else, it made my walls shake more than anything else on the album.

You need something a little slower and more dedicated? “Trail Of Seclusion” is your answer. Heavy on clean vocals and slower pace, the track seems a bit more fit for airplay than anything else here. But don’t think you’ll be slow dancing with your gal all the way through. The double-bass pedal fills from drummer Derek Youngsma keep the track energetic and forceeful.

“Deaf Ears” may be the only hiccup along the way here. It has some trouble with tempo throughout, and seems to have keyboard parts just for the sake of having them. Strip them away (along with the changing time signatures) and you might have something, but – for me – the track seemed lost in its intention and purpose.

Much more focused, “One By One” is another great example of how well hardcore and black metal can sound together when balanced properly. The guitars here are beyond excellent, and the gothic-sounding bridges knit the track together tightly.

The most interesting cut on the record is “Entrenched” – maybe due to the fact that it doesn’t sound very hardcore or gothic. In fact, it reminded me of some of the better groove metal bands of today. Yes, there are still the strings and keyboards – but the overall sense of just being ‘metal’ might make it the most accessible offering of them all. An unnecessary outro of orchestral sounds kept it a Bleeding Through song, but – at least for me – it sounded like a completely different direction – and a good one, at that.

Finishing things out is “Back To Life”, which is a fitting title that encompasses the entire effort. The Great Fire will sit proudly right next to This Is Love… as an album that defines the band. Critics and purists alike have done everything in their power to write Bleeding Through off and leave them for dead, but it’s apparent that they don’t  give a shit about what others think or say. Making diverse, genre-defying music is what this band has always attempted to do, and this album is an amazing middle-finger to the naysayers. The occasional log-jam of tempo shift and over indulgence in gothic keyboards didn’t stop this album from being a crowning achievement, which should in and of itself tell you how strong 99% of this album truly is.

9/10

Tracklist:
01. The March
02. Faith In Fire
03. Goodbye To Death
04. Final Hours
05. Starving Vultures
06. Everything You Love Is Gone
07. Walking Dead
08. Devil And Self Doubt
09. Step Back In Line
10. Trail Of Seclusion
11. Deaf Ears
12. One By One
13. Entrenched
14. Back To Life

Buy It At Amazon</a

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