Friday, September 09, 2011

In the Midst of Lions - The Heart of Man Album Review

Metalcore, having been a genre I've listened to avidly since its inception, is sort of my safety net, musically. I'm fine to listen to just about anything metalcore and can easily come up with comparisons for bands when necessary, but because I've listened to so much of it, it makes it extremely tough for any new release to live up to the many, many albums I adore from the genre. So even in a situation, like with In the Midst of Lions, where they make a huge leap forward, I'm still cognizant that they're not at the same level as other bands. One of the pitfalls of being around for years, I guess. This was originally published on August 2, 2010.

I was surprised to see a second album being released by In the Midst of Lions, and on Facedown Records no less. Their debut, Out of Darkness, was a sloppy mess with pretty shoddy production and not a lot of promotion given it was released on Strike First Records (Facedown’s test-bed label imprint). Getting some information about The Heart of Man, I read that it was recorded with Jamie King, who we all recognize for his work with Between the Buried and Me, which got me a little more interested. At least the production on the album should no longer be a problem. I was still a bit skeptical, however, since it had only been about a year since In the Midst of Lions’ last album, which didn’t leave a ton of time for the band to grow.

Digging right into The Heart of Man I did notice that, as guessed, the production was much, much better this time around. It gives the band a much more polished sound and was able to cover up some of the band’s weaknesses, but some things still managed to shine through despite the great uptick in production quality. This is predominantly a deathcore album, even though the band pepper songs with some technical death metal chunks. That, unfortunately, starts the band off in the hole since the deathcore genre has become the new trend for every "heavy" band to jump on, much like melodic metalcore and nu-metal before it. Good bands in any genre, however, can overcome the conventions of the genre. Here, however, we see a band trying to do that but not quite getting over the hump.

There are some really great tracks on this album that do show the band has chops and have grown since their previous release, but others continue to feel underdeveloped and sloppy. “Released” shows the band at their best, using all of their talents and weapons to craft a stellar song. The track is quite technical in nature, has well crafted-breakdowns, uses some very melodic guitar lines, and mixes together their standard deathcore vocals with some sparingly and nicely used clean vocals. It’s really a reflection of what the band can do when they focus all of their talents.

But then you have songs like “The Machine”. Ironically, living up to its name, the track feels very mechanical in nature. The verse of the song uses a so very familiar chugging pattern that is a staple in the genre, while the up-tempo movements feel rushed and don’t transition well. Yes, the guitars are shredding along at an insane clip and the drums are pummeling you with triggered blast beats, but they don’t feel like they necessarily go together all that well, despite their blazing speed. The song does close nicely in the final 20 seconds, but that’s really the only saving grace of the song.

Then there are tracks like “Defiance” where they give you something to love, like some well done shredding guitar work and a nice solo, but also bring in some elements that drag the song down, such as the spoken word vocals that just don’t work in this genre. Why ruin a perfectly solid and well written song with such an odd choice for vocals in the latter portion of the song?

The other hang-up I have with this album is the fact that I kept feeling as if the band was playing a little too closely to their influences and stuck strictly to melding deathcore with tech death moments. There was a distinct early career Between the Buried and Me vibe throughout the album, which could just be because of Jamie King’s involvement, but I also felt some moments that reminded me of The Faceless. And there seems to be a distinct division between when the band is in full-on deathcore mode and when they’re in tech death mode. They don’t seem to synthesize the two as well as they could.

Despite these criticisms, In the Midst of Lions have grown quite a bit since their debut, but they do still have a ways to go before really breaking out and turning people’s heads. As it is, The Heart of Man is a solid, if unspectacular, entry into the tech deathcore realm. Genre aficionados will be all over it, I’m sure, but the band will have a hard time making any headway outside of that group for the time being.

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