Monday, October 6, 2014

Sarea - This Is Not Goodbye (2014)

Metal fans can be a finicky bunch.  Metalcore is often decried by anyone who feels that the style has no business being associated with heavy metal.  Those fans sometimes go so far as to take offense to said metalcore bands being classified as "metal" in any fashion.  I understand this viewpoint, though I disagree with it in most cases.  I think "metal", as an over-arching genre, is far more vast and diverse than some folks would like to admit or recognize.  Sarea is a good example of a band that skirts that line and makes a case for something that stays within those boundaries while pushing at them pretty forcefully.

If I had to make a comparison, I'd say Killswitch Engage is a good comparison, but then that doesn't do this band's sound justice.  The most melodic of KSE songs is where we find the closest match to what Sarea is doing, but their sound is more expansive than what that description would lead one to believe.  I also hesitate to compare them to Five Finger Death Punch, mostly due to the combination of clean and screamed/growled vocals, and the tendency of the material to sound heavy while giving off a modern hard rock vibe.  Think of post-metalcore stuff that rides the line between modern hard rock and semi-progressive modern metal.  Add a healthy dose of keyboards and vocals that vacillate between a more rock-oriented style of singing, and a layered vocal that combines a deep, relatively throaty growl and a higher-pitched hardcore/metalcore styled yell/growl, and you get something that begins to defy genre tags just enough to be annoying.  This combination of elements generally serves Sarea well.

Right away, it's obvious that the album owes a great debt to modern hard rock, because many of the melodic touchstones take cues from other bands who have taken the metalcore and/or modern screamo sound and moved in a more rock direction, and the keyboards just exemplify that shift.  There are still spots where the faster tempos and riffing cling to the heavier side of the metalcore coin, however, and the addition of a few well-constructed guitar solos and the lack of traditional breakdowns make it hard to label this metalcore.  Instead, it falls somewhere between a modern, melodic hard rock, and a modern, melodic metal sound with extreme metal elements.  If I can be cheesy for a moment, can I call this "rockcore"?  That would best describe the sound in a single term.  That's not to say that there isn't plenty of metal moments present, because there are.  In particular, "The Catch 22" has a nice dual-guitar lick and some heavy riffing alongside a speedy tempo, a fast drum rhythm, and mostly shouted/growled vocals, and a real nice solo half-way through.

Guitars have a nice tone to them - not too heavy to take away from the rock influences, but heavy enough that when the riffs are hanging out on the lower string and in the lower chords, there's plenty of bite to them.  The guitar solos sound good as well, with enough grit to them so they sound more metal than hard rock.  Overall, Johan Alexsson and Alex Dzaic do a good job on the album.  Bass is handled by Johan Larsson, and is solid throughout, though I didn't recognize anything overly complex coming from his neck of the woods.  Still, he provides the necessary thump and bump in the mix.  Drumming by "Charlie D" is good, alternating nicely between simple rhythms and fast-paced, more metal-oriented playing.  He certainly has a handle on rolls, because he uses them quite a bit throughout the album.  Special mention should be made of the keyboard work by Martin Persson, because he shines quite a bit throughout the album.  The additional atmosphere he provides gives the album much more personality than it would have without his presence here.

Vocals are handled by Chris Forsberg, and seeing as he handles both the singing and screaming, he does a pretty good job switching between the two styles.  His singing voice appears to have improved between "Alive" and this new release, and while his ability to scream and growl is by no means top-tier, he does a good job expressing the energy of the material.  I'd put him on par with someone like Howard Jones, though perhaps he has a bit more range (if you want to call it that) with regards to his screaming, in part because he can get slightly guttural at times, and has an element of that "sing-scream" at times, too.  His singing is competent, and improved over the previous release, though he lacks the power and emotion of someone like Howard Jones in the clean vocal category.  Still, he does a good job overall.

I have to be honest about two things.  First, my initial reaction to This Is Not Goodbye was very mild.  It sounded good on the surface, but I wasn't sure if I was going to like it long-term.  Second, Metalcore as a style has become very watered down, and many bands trying to move past the style either sound utterly wimpy, or they become bad imitators of either the deathcore scene, or the Gothencore style.  I wondered whether or not Sarea could weather that downturn in the credibility of their chosen sound/style.  Upon repeated listens, Sarea surprised me with some level of range, a sound that wasn't too devoid of heaviness so that it still piqued my interest, and a good enough range of songs that I feel like the band has a real future with what they're doing.  Doolittle Group has an interesting road ahead with this signing, because it departs significantly with what they've done thus far.  I hope they can do well by the band and get them marketed properly so they can have some impact, because I think they have a solid thing going.  Recommended for the melodic metalcore and post-metalcore fan-base.


Here's the official video for Sarea's song "Downfall".

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