When Counterparts first announced the title of their third album, The Difference Between Hell and Home, I recalled the emotional distress related with familiarity. Sure, I love my hometown of Lenexa, Kansas, but after I left for college last year, the change of pace made me realize that staying home any longer would’ve thrown me into mindless monotony. I could tell there was a strong negative feeling towards my home, where ambitions fail to lift off the ground and aimless routines develop. There are routines in hardcore music also, and they range from redundant melodies to trite lyrical themes and often insipid vocal patterns. As Counterparts bring their heartfelt hardcore to the table with their third effort, they are able to strongly connect with listeners on an emotional level with the angst related to the themes of home and belonging, and the connection is intensified by the sheer force and energy that the group’s style pronounces.
The 11 songs on this record are heavy, angry and raw, but at the same time, the band is able to round their sound out with a slew of melodic sections and structural variety. All of the elements of Counterparts’ stark, straightforward approach combine to make The Difference an incredibly hearty hardcore album, and it feels like a natural progression from their first two releases. While Prophets was an absolute firestorm of a record, The Current Will Carry Us didn’t contain the same spark musically. Counterparts progressed into a less musically potent, but lyrically mature group. The Difference is a keen combination of the two albums. The musical rage and melodic intensity is present. The relentless, heart-on-sleeve songwriting is present. As a whole, the record is the strongest, most accomplished of the band’s efforts.
The first half of the album feels extremely inspired, and even so compared to the band’s previous material. These tracks are immense, punchy, and very punk-esque, with guitar and drum dynamics showcased through smooth transitions and extensive instrumental layering. The Hundredth-esque track “Witness” is a colossal onslaught of guitars. In “Outlier,” too, the band uses their guitars to enhance the track’s ferocity, even with a fluent mix of melody offsetting the brutality. “Lost” is a speedy opener full of angst and negativity, and “Ghost” follows with thunderous melodies and breakdowns. Throughout the rest of the record, too, the breakdowns are immaculate – especially in songs like “Compass,” where they follow angry, upfront lyrics (“I watch the world give up on me”). For a band that makes a strong effort to bring outcasts together through their emotional lyrics, they truly succeed on this album. With sincerity bleeding into the songs through the lyrical themes of acceptance and desperation, The Difference tends to be a very cathartic record.
Despite its irreproachable songwriting, The Difference isn’t a perfect album musically. It’s often a bit repetitive, and a few of the songs run together due to their overbearing guitar riffs and Brendan Murphy’s raspy vocal fervor. But still, it’s not like these guys are The Acacia Strain when it comes to variety (no offense to The Acacia Strain; I love them). A few slower sections in the second half of the album prevent the listener from feeling overly weary. The band takes a few risks as well, including a clean vocal section at the end of “Outlier” and the fading instrumental forcefulness of closer “Soil.” “Decay” demonstrates the band’s versatility, as the melodic guitars and spoken-word vocal patterns give the song an anthemic quality.
Counterparts has always been one of the better hardcore bands out there, and with their third release, they show the scene that they will never sacrifice their artistic integrity, but they aren’t afraid to progress and get their hands dirty at the same time. They confront their own pain and they use their music as a way to overpower it. The Difference is the strongest record from the band musically and lyrically, as it showcases excellent songwriting and domineering instrumentation. In fact, some songs run purely off the power of the words alone. While this release finds Counterparts at their most trenchant, the experience isn’t complete without seeing the band tear through these songs live. With a compelling mix of heart and soul, The Difference Between Hell and Home is a hardcore record surely worth the investment.
Hardcore | Victory Records