posted on 4/2011 By:
Back when compilation albums actually mattered, the 1990 release of At Death’s Door, Volume I was quite the revelation for many of us. Although focused mostly on the rapidly rising stars in the death metal genre, it was the inclusion of a caustic Pennsylvania thrash band named Believer that boldly stood out amongst its much heavier counterparts. At the time, the vocals of Kurt Bachman and the aggressively progressive lean the music took was quite unique, and history has shown that none of the band’s four previous full lengths are derivative of each other. Their latest effort, Transhuman, is no different. However, the band has taken some very sharp stylistic turns, and rumblings from some long time fans about this album might resonate even more so than their previous release, the polarizing Gabriel, but it only takes one listen to understand why.
What Goes Right: Despite having never received a notable amount of critical acclaim aside from their excellent first two albums, Extraction From Mortality and Sanity Obscure, Believer has always exhibited a knack for composing oddly compelling tunes. Hooks and weird time signatures are everywhere, although the thrash elements of previous works are noticeably lessened. This shift into more groove-laden waters has been made effortlessly, and melody still plays a massive role in everything they do. Right from the start, the gingerly palm-muted riffing of “Lie Awake” sets the tone for what follows—a series of catchy, accessible, and relatively frill-free tracks that are easy to listen to, while also showing many modern rock mannerisms. They’re not afraid to explore their fretboards, and as such, the leads are unsurprisingly stellar (“End Of Infinity”) and the rhythms are often quirky (“G.U.T”, “Ego Machine”), and by keeping things simple, they do little to offend in that regard.
The subject matter is also kind of cool: humans enhanced by technology, and accordingly, tunes like “Transfection” and “Clean Room” are coldly executed, with the latter tune showing the first aggressive thrash tendencies of the past. “Currents” is an almost soothing, spacious riff-less instrumental that bridges the middle of the disc rather well, and the overall production is solid and brings out the best in every track. It really does sound good, but on the other side, nothing escapes the ear, including…
What Goes Wrong: Let me count the ways. While a lot of what I’ve said about their newer aesthetic sounds positive, the actual direction is long in the tooth. The modern rock slant is terribly bland the majority of the time, and the band vividly plays against their strengths by trying to make the listening experience easy to handle. There are moments that could easily pass for a heavier Linkin Park (“Multiverse”) and highlight Bachman’s off-putting clean vocals.
And how about those damn vocals? At one time, Kurt had one of the most recognizable and scathing voices in extreme metal, and now even his harsher moments are a shadow of what they used to be, aside from the pissed-off “Ego Machine”. His cleans have strangely become more youthful as he’s gotten older, yet he’s also lost a great deal of power, but it’s not due to wear and tear since Kurt can still drop down into a menacing growl at times (“Being No One”). This willing choice to attempt to replicate the angst of younger rock bands is a little hard to handle, and most of the time, just doesn’t fucking work.
Although this change might have been effortless, it also subtracts from what makes this band what it is. No progression, little fire, and a constant shooting in the foot by downplaying the complexity and ambitious drive found on past releases--even Gabriel--knocks things down a notch or three. Usually the songs start out promising, and then either lack tenacity, or change awkwardly from good verse structure into gelded, derivative choruses like on the aforementioned “Being No One”. Even if you were to place this album back, say, five years ago, the effect would be no more impacting.
In The End: Believer's few ardent fanboys will worship Transhuman, as they do with everything the band releases, but their less-obsessed fans will probably be found wanting. In their obvious attempt to grow, they have instead stepped backwards and denied their true talents, compounded by Bachman’s completely unnatural (for him) vocal stylings. Another band should have released this album, not Believer, and as a result it cements them into the lower tiers with no forthcoming sign of elevation. It’s a real shame, because while there are positives to this disc, the negatives inexorably creep in along the way. And yes, I did listen to it more than once.
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