Metalcore has many problems, and they begin with the name. It’s an embarrassing lie. Metalcore is not the core of anything, let alone a genre that’s been around for centuries. Metalcore is, every year, with every new band, stuttery guitars and a mixture of screaming and yelling. My late father, a dabbler in 90s metal and my enabler for the genre at an early age, would have laughed if he heard the music of Memphis May Fire.
Occasionally, bands are able to step out of the immaturity of metalcore, though, for some reason, maybe label-driven reasons, they keep the descriptor. Norma Jean’s last two releases have pulled the overweight tank of a genre as far as they could with smart writing and a complex sound that’s worth chewing on. August Burns Red, despite not convincing me to let go of 2009’s Constellations yet, have tried to do the same for metalcore with weaker writing and interesting structure. The genre is growing, ironically, much slower than the adrenaline-fueled music it’s filled with.
For the last few years, I’ve continued to listen to metalcore, not for enjoyment, but for research. I’m digging through what I once loved to try to find out why I don’t anymore. I ask myself if it’s really about me getting older, and more jaded about a type of music I’ve listened to for close to 10 years now. I’d like to think the answer isn’t that simple. Age and taste affect each other, surely, but I know I still enjoy other things that I used to, like video games and movies, for different reasons now.
It turns out, the answer is simple to describe, but, I assume, much harder to get right, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this. The answer lies within another meaninglessly named genre. One that people, forgivably, often confuse with metalcore. Post-hardcore takes influence from punk rock, but brings in the grit and melody of metalcore. The answer is the small, yet significant, difference between post-hardcore and metalcore: range.
Metalcore is the cat that climbs up a tree and doesn’t know how to get down. While it meows for attention, post-hardcore is leaping from ground to branch with grace. Those are my best cat metaphors to say that post-hardcore has a range of sound that metalcore does not. Post-hardcore takes the important bits from metalcore and gives them room to breathe.
I’m talking about bands like Wolves at the Gate and Dance Gavin Dance—who released my favorite album of last year. Wolves at the Gate is post-hardcore with a punch and soaring vocals to accompany it. Dance Gavin Dance is post-hardcore with dirty melody; their guitarists carry the songs with electronic precision. While Wolves At the Gate gets heavier with VxV, Dance Gavin Dance gets looser. There’s a noticeable difference between the two bands. As a metalcore listener, the onslaught of Rise Records and chuggy-guitared bands makes it hard to remember that music in the same genre is allowed to be different.
About a minute into Being As An Ocean’s How We Both Wondrously Perish, you’ll realize what makes this five-piece from California different. I’ve never purposely listened to spoken word before. I’ve always found it artificial in metal, where it’s often used with poor lyrics about rising up or as a brief reprieve before a thick breakdown. In Wondrously Perish, the spoken word legitimizes the poetic lyrical structure of the genre. In one moment, lead singer Joel Quartuccio preaches the words, in the next, he’s giving them serration. Sometimes I imagine he’s reading them like scripture, fueling each syllable with emotion that seems to come from somewhere personal. I’m stunned every time, because the homogenization of metalcore has dulled me to the concept of authored messages.
The clean singer and guitarist, Michael McGough, has been criticized for plaguing the band with whiny, repetitive vocals. It’s a common complaint that comes from the auto-tuned hell most music in both genres willingly lives in. But McGough does what many singers can’t, not only because of skill, but because the music lets him. If the song is on 11 from the beginning, there’s no comfortable time to slow down and sing. It’s the very structure of Wondrously Perish’s 10 songs that let him slide in between and become the juxtaposition to the pulse of the rage. And that’s only in the angry songs, which make up less than half of the album. The rest of the time he’s tossing back and forth between Quartuccio’s raw talk and rawer screams.
What I love most about Wondrously Perish is the lack of anemic guitar-work. Here, they pull the songs by a puppeteer’s strings, letting them down gently to yank them back up again. And the transitions are clean. Try to find the guitars in the raucous metalcore bands today. The same bands that have given up on instrumental precision and have bet on blunt lyrics, made even more stale with the invention of lyric videos.
Like with the vocals, Wonderously Perish’s source material demands variety from the guitars. I think listening to the songs as you would a audio book is the best experience. They are stories, metaphors, and, admittedly, sometimes a little too preachy, creeds. They make us feel for the musicians, which is something metalcore songs replace with vague rally cries and relationship issues. And don’t get me wrong, I think there’s a lot more to be written about love, but coming from a place of hatred—especially from groups made up of only men— as they usually do, is only exploiting our culture’s serious female representation problems. Metalcore, because of its constraints, has a lot of problems to work through and juvenile messaging is on top of the list.
That’s why I refuse to believe that Being As An Ocean has only been a band for three years. Three years. It took them three years to figure out what August Burns Red, an 11-year-old band, has only discovered in the last five. They’re the evolution of metalcore with the post-hardcore label. I guess it’s always the young, cycle-breakers that elevate their craft.
They realized that for genres that obsesses over lyrics and extreme sound, they should borrow from how we speak more often. Language derives meaning from range. It’s why we whisper and yell depending on the situation. Being As An Ocean didn’t figure out how to make good music, they figured out how to be human.
Image: Being As An Ocean / YouTube