Times are tough right now. The last few years seem to have been one weird nightmare after another, an apparently never ending stream of reality-shattering alterations to the world’s status quo. How one reacts to these strange days depends on their perspective and worldview. It’s of course preferable to have hope, to remain optimistic in the face of the oncoming danger. However it’s also tempting to succumb to despair, to view everything through blackened eyes, watching it all come tumbling down.
The Acacia Strain have long ploughed this particular nihilistic field, however now it seems that the world has caught up with their vision. Nihilism does contain its own form of redemptive qualities, and The Acacia Strain seem to find the right corners of its dark ideology wherein they can express and articulate their feelings of misery and horror towards the world. Regarding the concept ofSlow Decay, vocalist Vincent Bennett explains; “we’ve done our time on earth, broken through the boundaries of what reality actually is, and we’re now witnessing our collective descent into madness.”
And what sights The Acacia Strain have to show you. Slow Decay feels like the record where the band really come into their own, where the seven-string/breakdown formula they helped popularise feels like it now truly belongs to them. The 00’s/10’s deathcore era is much derided and joked about, and in retrospect, The Acacia Strain’s early work wasn’t exactly a standout of that time period. However, they’ve really evolved beyond it, gradually assimilating different ideas and techniques that have helped the band become the best version of what they can be. To quote Friedrich Nietzsche, the godfather of nihilism; “all good things were once formerly bad things”.
What’s most impressive about Slow Decay is its rich, textured sonic palette. Though no song on the album exceeds the five-minute mark, each feels intelligently thought-out and ambitious in scope. These songs take their time, utilising strong technical nuances, like the background guitars of ‘Solace And Serenity’, or the eerie outro vocals of Courtney LaPlan on ‘One Thousand Painful Stings’. The album’s change of pace to a mid tempo, moody trudge is hugely refreshing, and makes you wonder why it took The Acacia Strain so long to figure out that this is a more effective mode to be working in. ‘Birds Of Paradise, Birds Of Prey’ is a great example of how Slow Decay works best. Starting with a swaggering lumber, the smartly-structured song contains howling, creepingly melodic guitars atop its usual chugs, giving it a sense of weight, and a real air of apt sadness.
Devin Shidaker and Tom Smith, Jr’s guitar work has also greatly improved, utilising techniques and ideas that are bang up to date with those at the more experimental end of extreme metal. Their riffs dive and collapse, hanging uncomfortably in the air or scurrying away into the dark. They recall the mighty Car Bomb and their strange, almost-sci-fi inflected downtuned riffs. Then of course, lurking around the edges of Slow Decay, as is the case with so much modern metal, looms the shadow of Meshuggah. ‘Feed A Pigeon, Breed A Rat’ most recalls the swedish masters with its polyrhythmic guitar attack, though never quite approaches their head-spinning level of complexity. The ambience of Slow Decay’s leads shares a lot of Meshuggah’s DNA, though, again, without ever broaching their incredible, deconstructed musicality.
The album’s songwriting makes the most sense when taken as a piece with its thematic concerns. As mentioned, though The Acacia Strain have always traded in brutal nihilism, here it feels like the attitude is most earned. The way that the songs are texturally expanded and more deliberately paced, combined with those diving guitars, makes the tracks feel as though they’re breaking apart, decaying into nothingness. Vincent Bennett’s vocals aren’t especially poignant, but they hit with a force that they haven’t before. “We fear the dark, but it's the light that exposes the true horrors of this world” is one of the album’s more memorable lines, a profound perspective that recalls black metal and its images of blackened suns, where the symbolic light becomes dark. Elsewhere, there are recurring images of humanity’s failures, the crushing weight of the world, empty voids, extinction, maggots, rats.
For the first time in their career, The Acacia Strain have crafted something that feels thematically weighty as well as just musically, containing a sense of genuine heaviness beyond the pummelling riffs and double-kicks. They’ve always been heavy, but on Slow Decay it feels justified and earned. What a shame it took a potential apocalypse to bring it out of them.