When they work, formulas become some of the most sought-after things in existence. Just ask Plankton from SpongeBob SquarePants. The Krabby Patty formula brought so much success to the Krusty Krab that it made Plankton want to steal it for his own restaurant. Cartoon plotlines aside, many bands develop formulas that guide their music, whether it’s carefully or naturally done. An EP and two full-lengths into their career, metalcore quartet Beartooth has established a formula that’s already made them a genre staple, albeit plaguing their music with some staleness and redundancy. They play to it heavily on their newest release, Aggressive. As a result, the album lacks the brute force of their debut, but still fulfills its title thanks to unadulterated lyricism and wall-of-sound instrumentation.
The title track leads things off with punishing riffage and a shouted chorus, both of which are highly expectant of — and always well-executed by — the band. What’s impressive about the song is its stickiness, as the line “lost aggressive youth” and the keen timing of the guitars and drums help its energy last. From there, however, the album doesn’t hold the same belligerence, with clean-sung verses and hooks finding their place more often than in Disgusting. It’s not as much a negative since the instrumentation is so thick, but it brings an anthemic quality to the songs that replaces much of what used to be straight-up pounce. “Hated” and “Loser” are solid songs with choruses that shine more than anything else. They give Caleb Shomo the chance to show off his impeccable singing voice, while the rest of the band falls to the back with melodies and breakdowns that are solid but nothing special. A lot of this can be attributed to the production, which is larger and less dirty than that of the group’s previous effort.
“Fair Weather Friend” and “Sick of Me” are arguably the album’s catchiest cuts. The latter cements itself as one of the best sing-alongs the band has ever written, perhaps only falling behind “In Between”. The lyrics manage to stand out just as much as the high-flying hook, with Shomo detailing his struggling self while a member of Attack Attack! and the importance of moving on from that state. Adding “Aggressive” and “Rock is Dead” — two songs that detail negative outside perceptions of youth and heavy music — to the onslaught, and the record shows signs of boldness within its musical complacency. The few moments that the band slips up keep the quartet from truly taking off on this release. It seems like each time Beartooth is able to break the mold with a structural change or crafty metaphor, they come back down to Earth with a cringe-worthy line or verse-chorus-breakdown fallback.
Luckily, the successes are still aplenty on Aggressive, and there are several apart from the splashy choruses and memorable riffs the record boasts. Two tracks that turn the formula upside-down are “Always Dead” and “King of Anything”, the heaviest and softest songs respectively. Though the dense, slick production takes away from a lot of the grit that made the band’s last effort so fierce, it pushes “Always Dead” forward with incredible power. The breakdown is delicious, perfect for punching a wall while screaming the word “dead” along with Shomo in your room (warning: do not try this at home). “King of Anything” strips itself down to just the frontman and a single guitar, and he closes the record out by warning of idolatry. It’s an interesting perspective flip, considering the overly negative, critical treatment discussed in the first 11 tracks and the overly positive, “perfect thing” treatment in the closer.
Beartooth’s formula has brought them a long way, and their extended reliance on it in their sophomore release is what ends up being its biggest downfall. Anthemic songwriting and fixed song structures prevent it from matching the twists and turns of its predecessor, though it manages to be just as — if not, more — memorable. That’s due to the band’s knack for hooks, and in that regard, Aggressive is like A Day To Remember’s What Separates Me From You — a record that sacrifices heaviness for catchiness without losing the aggression. However you want to describe it, Beartooth’s second album is a solid collection of songs that succeed in some ways and struggle in others.
Metalcore/Hardcore | Red Bull Records