If you’re of a certain age, just seeing the word MySpace brings a flood of emotions, memories, and reactions. MySpace, a driving force behind the cultural movement of sorts, shone a spotlight on some of the best and worst the millennial generation had to offer. As a precursor to sites and apps like Facebook, Twitter, Vine, and TikTok, it introduced us to concepts we know and love today, like ‘virality’ and trends. One of those trends that persists today is the “Deathcore” genre of metal.
Be honest, when you read the word ‘MySpace’, did you cringe a little? It’s okay, I did too when I came up with the concept of this article. And if you cringed at the mention of MySpace, you probably cringed at the mention of deathcore, too. That’s okay, too.
Since its inception, the deathcore genre has been highly divisive within the metal community. It has often been looked down upon. Often thought of as “unserious” and “hokey”. I’ll be the first to admit, if you’d talked to me a year ago, I would have had the same reaction.
Now, this isn’t a “discovering metal for the first time” story like you’d see if you’re familiar with someone like Elizabeth Zharoff and her wonderful YouTube channel, “The Charismatic Voice”. No, I’ve long fancied myself a ‘metalhead’.
I grew up listening to classic rock, falling in love with guitar solos and riffs. When I was in my childhood, the grunge era was hitting the scene and I couldn’t get enough of bands like Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains. As I grew up, I gravitated towards progressively harder music. Metallica. Slipknot. Bullet for my Valentine. Killswitch Engage. But, inevitably, I always tended to stick within the same few genres, namely thrash and metalcore.
Then something changed. Or, rather, three somethings changed the way I think about the deathcore genre – and to a greater extent how I thought about heavy, extreme music as a whole. It may sound weird to some to say you went through a musical epiphany at the age of 34, but that’s exactly what happened to me thanks to releases from Slaughter to Prevail, Lorna Shore, and Whitechapel.
Slipknot + Death Metal + Russia = ????
I’m not sure if there’s a better way to explain the sound of Slaughter to Prevail’s “Kostolom” than, ‘What if Slipknot’s ‘Iowa’ was a death metal album?” That was sort of the description I got when their single “Baba Yaga” first came onto my radar, and when I tell you I was blown away by the accuracy!
Iowa is one of the most important records to who I am as a person today. That album got me through some dark times, and it will always hold a special place in my heart.
That connection, I think, is a large part of the reason I connected so strongly with ‘Kostolom’. It hits a lot of those same notes of anger, brutality, and hopelessness that both the ‘Iowa’ record had, and that I had personally when that record was getting me through.
That was the first thing that really got me to begin to reconsider my stance on the genre of a joke. How can something be a joke if it’s legitimately making you feel emotions? Deathcore can make you feel emotions? That can’t be right, can it?
Oh, it can and it is! For all the shit this genre gets, there’s so much more to it than the memey vibes it was giving off during the MySpace days of its infancy, and there’s so much more that the genre can become as it continues to evolve and pull from other influences like hardcore punk and nu-metal.
Deathcore Evolves with Lorna Shore
“Kostolom” was the album that got me to a place where I was intrigued by the deathcore genre. But it was another album, one that coincidentally dropped on the same day, that picked up where Kostolom left off and convinced me to accept – and eventually love – the genre. That album, or EP if we’re being technical, was Lorna Shore’s “And I Return to Nothingness”.
At first, I was hesitant to give the Lorna Shore release a chance. I’d never listened to the group in the past, but I knew there was some… not great stuff in their past, so I avoided it at first.
Upon learning that this iteration of the band swiftly ousted a member responsible for said stuff and had a brand new vocalist, I caved and listened to their new single “To the Hellfire”.
If I remember correctly, my first impression was something to the effect of “HOLY SHIT…WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?!?” Said in the best way possible!
What that was, was the absolute vocal gymnastics of new lead singer Will Ramos. The ease with which he flowed from deep, guttural tunnel screams to his goblin-esque highs blew me away. Then, of course, the pig squeals into that final, sustained tunnel scream to close out the song. My mind was absolutely blown.
Then, when the EP finally dropped and I got to check out the other two songs – “Of the Abyss” and the title track – my mind was blown yet again. You can do that with deathcore? You can just… go and add symphonic elements to it? I didn’t know that was allowed!
This is Deathcore? Then Why Can’t I Stop Crying?
The entire idea behind this piece stems from a conversation I was having with a friend (@HobbyistBrendan on Twitter) about Whitechapel’s latest album “Kin”. We discussed how much of an absolute masterpiece I think this album is and lamented the (relatively) poor sales performance it had.
Part of that “poor” performance has to do with the music industry as a whole and its evolution. Album sales across the board just aren’t what they used to be. The industry by and large has moved to a place where physical media just isn’t as popular.
The other factor in that performance is fan reception and, let’s be honest, gatekeeping. There’s going to be a contingent who reads this article, sees the mention of Whitechapel, and immediately thinks “KIN WASN’T A DEATHCORE ALBUM YOU ASS!”.
And that’s fine, people are allowed to have their feelings about what characteristics do and do not make up a genre. However, that kind of thinking is a double-edged sword. But that is an article for another day. For now, let’s get back to the overall masterpiece that was “Kin”.
Whether you think “Kin” qualifies as a deathcore album or not, Whitechapel is a quintessential deathcore band, and there are more than a couple of songs off the album that absolutely go hard, so I’m counting it.
In that context, and much like the Lorna Shore album before it, “Kin” pushes the boundaries of what deathcore can be, and adds elements to the genre that should have had fans really excited for the future of the genre. Namely, in this case, incredible storytelling.
“Kin” continues the story from Whitechapel’s previous album, “The Valley” and continues the journey of lead singer Phil Bozeman dealing and coming to terms with the childhood traumas he endured. And all of that anger, pain and suffering really comes through in the lyrics.
The lyrical content of “Kin” ascends beyond the typical brutality and gore that deathcore typically brings. It really attempts to take the listener on an emotional journey through those emotions, and eventually to a place of coming to grips with them. Getting to a place where you can accept the past for what it was. Appreciate the good times that were had even through the suffering, and move on with life a healthier and better person for it.
Find Music That Makes Your Heart Sing
To me, music is at its best when it piques your curiosity, connects with you, and makes you feel. Whether those emotions are a cathartic release of anger and trauma, or an overwhelming sense of joy, music at its best is uniquely capable of drawing out emotions, and providing an endorphin rush that few other things can.
That’s something that all three of these albums have in common. And to get all of that from a genre that I previously wrote off as a joke was an eye-opening experience, to say the least.
If you get nothing else from this piece, I hope it’s to always keep an open mind on your musical journey. Don’t be afraid to listen to something just because of the label it’s been given. Limiting yourself to certain genres is depriving yourself of so much incredible music and so many wonderful stories.
Now get out there and discover something that makes your heart as happy as these albums have made mine. And be sure to catch the return of the Blast Beats podcast!