(Andy Synn presents a double-header of heaviness courtesy of The Acacia Strain)
So here’s the thing… for the longest time I wasn’t really a fan of The Acacia Strain.
I didn’t actively dislike them by any means – I could appreciate their brutish heaviness and understood why people liked them, no question – but they just didn’t do it for me.
But then the oddest thing started to happen. The more popular they got (and there’s no denying they’re pretty damn popular these days) the less populist they seemed to become.
And so I started to pay more attention (I think this was around the time they released Gravebloom, but I may be wrong). And as they began to spend less and less time “playing to the cheap seats” (for want of a better term) the more and more I liked what I was hearing.
Even then, they weren’t always a band I was running to check out on release day – you’ll notice that this is actually my first time writing about them at any length, although I originally intended to drop some words about Slow Decay back in 2020 – but one whom I still had a growing appreciation for all the same.
And now it’s time to put my proverbial money where my metaphorical mouth is and give their recently released double-album, Step Into the Light / Failure Will Follow, some proper attention.
STEP INTO THE LIGHT
Let’s cut right to the chase here, shall we?
If Failure Will Follow (about which I’ll say more shortly) is The Acacia Strain doing a “Doom” album, then Step Into the Light is essentially their equivalent of a Grindcore record.
Don’t believe me? Then just take a gander at the track-listing where you’ll see that of the album’s ten songs only two of them crack the three-minute mark (and, to be honest, I think you could easily lose “Sinkhole”, as it’s by far the most stereotypical – and unremarkable – track here), with the entire collection ultimately clocking in at a little under twenty-three-and-a-half minutes in total.
Sure, that in itself doesn’t suddenly make TAS a Grind band – and I don’t think anyone is actively making that claim – but listening to the back-to-back blast ‘n’ burn of “Calf’s Blood” and “Chain”, for example – neither of which make it anywhere near two minutes – the fact that they’ve been spending so much time hanging out with Full of Hell recently suddenly makes a lot more sense.
Of course, this isn’t the first time the band have toyed with the brutality of brevity by any means (both It Comes In Waves and Slow Decay had a few short, sharp shocks in store for the unsuspecting listener) but they’ve rarely gone quite as hard as they do on tracks like “Teeth of the Cursed Dog” and “Is This Really Happening?”, somehow cramming the same amount of chunky, churning riffs and massive, megaton breakdowns into an even smaller, more densely-packed space.
And you know how it works… the more you compress something this explosive the bigger the final detonation.
FAILURE WILL FOLLOW
In contrast to the rapid-fire riffs and explosive energy of its companion, Failure Will Follow is an altogether darker, doomier, and arguably even more demanding, listen, made up of just three colossal cuts of gloomy ambience, glimmering electronics, and utterly gargantuan guitars which share more in common with the likes of Primitive Man (another one of the band’s recent touring partners) and Body Void than any of The Acacia Strain‘s so-called peers in the Deathcore scene.
The sombre, slow-burn intro of “Pillar of Salt”, for example, soon gives way to a series of monstrous, lurching rhythms and morbidly-heavy, hanging riffs whose sheer sonic density and auditory weight really is a sight (or sound) to behold.
But that’s not all the song has to offer – which is good, since it’s over eleven minutes long – as the group opt for a slow-reveal of moody, melodic touches, passages of mournful, melancholy atmosphere, and some incredibly effective guest vocals (courtesy of Iris.exe and Full of Hell‘s Dylan Walker), all of which add a little something extra to the crushing, cathartic character of the music.
Similarly, “Bog Walker” expands on the ever-present sludgier side of the band’s sound, its Sabbath-esque intro eventually giving way to the sort of gut-wrenching grooves and molasses-thick melodies that you’ll no doubt be digesting for weeks afterwards, while “Basin of Vows” (which also features a guest turn from Primitive Man‘s Ethan McCarthy) wraps its chokingly thick coils of doom-laden riffage around an unexpectedly calm and contemplative core which might just be the most tender and soothing moment of the band’s career (and which, of course, only serves to make the surrounding sonic maelstrom seem even heavier by comparison).
Sure, a small part of me feels that maybe one more track would have really been the icing on the cake here (which is funny, since I feel like Step Into the Light could almost do with being even shorter than it is) but there’s no question that Failure Will Follow demonstrates that The Acacia Strain are just as good (if not even better) at playing it slow and sludgy as they are at blasting and bludgeoning the listener into submission.
If you only take one thing away from this article let it be this – in an age where the norm is for bands to simplify and sanitise their sound as they get bigger, sacrificing their identity in the endless pursuit of mass appeal and media approval (all while calling it “artistic growth”), The Acacia Strain‘s decision to reject this trend in favour of pursuing not just one but two different, and far less palatable, paths is firmly to their credit.
And the fact that these records contain some of the best material of their career? Well, that’s almost a bonus…