At what point did modern metalcore morph into the hardened remaster of nu metal that now dominates the vanguard of heavy music? Its biggest hitters – Bring Me the Horizon, Of Mice & Men, Motionless in White – are embracing the nu as scene godfathers Slipknot and Linkin Park make steps back to their earlier sound. Newer groups owe as much debt to Limp Bizkit as they do In Flames,. The mid 10s is reflecting the late 90s as the bands of a decade ago did the thrash heyday of the late 80s, with newer electronic and pop influences also permeating many bands’ approach to songwriting. One group omitting those left-field deviations is Stray from the Path, who have earned a reputation as “Rage Against the Machine goes hardcore” with their more recent albums – a reputation that ‘Subliminal Criminals’ will only extend.
Groove is the foremost priority here, whether it’s off-kilter (the pummelling “Shots Fired”) or the more straight ahead swagger of “Time Bomb” and killer sequel track “Badge & A Bullet Pt. II”. Like its forebear the song deals with police violence and racism, just one of the numerous social issues the group tackle with gusto if little nuance. “D.I.E.P.I.G.” works effectively as a vicious condemnation of sexual predators, complete with controversial overt references to Front Porch Step and Lostprophets frontman Ian Watkins; “First World Problem Child” has less to say on white, middle class American privilege and gets mired in repetitive hooks.
The album’s choruses are invariably simplistic, barked shouts that stick in the ear and would work wonders in a live setting. “Outbreak”, with its attack on the US medical system and inclusion of the albums title is the best of the bunch and an obvious single, while also carrying the most glaring Rage Against the Machine influence. It is difficult to separate this record from the shadow of that other socially conscious group, particularly when Tom Williams imitates the squalling guitar effects of Tom Morello on “The New Gods” and the sprawling “These Things Have to Fall Apart”. That said, these more groove-oriented tracks with a more alternative metal sound are more often than not superior to the more traditional metalcore of “Snap” or other lesser songs.
As with the previous few Stray From the Path albums, there are a handful of guest vocal appearances to provide reprieve from Drew York’s sneering attack, which remains as fierce as ever. Architects’ Sam Carter is surprisingly underwhelming on “First World Problem Child”, and use of his clean vocals would have been an interesting contrast to the rest of the album. Far more enjoyable are the contributions from Enter Shikari’s Rou Reynolds, who is in his element vocally dissecting the collapse of privacy to government monitoring on “Eavesdropper”, and Cody B. Ware’s ice cool rap over the distinct 90s hip hop vibes of “Future of Sound”. The latter in particular is a stand out highlight of ‘Subliminal Criminals’ that reins in the otherwise relentless aggression of the album, which represents a strength on the one hand as momentum is never lost, but even with a wisely reined-in 32 minute runtime there’s a lack of variety in mood that borders on the monotonous. Varied tempos help offset this, but more chances to breathe amid the roar would have been welcome.
Closely mimicking the techniques of another band, particularly one as seminal as RATM, are no bad thing if you can reach similar levels of quality, and ‘Subliminal Criminals’ is at least as good as that band’s ‘Evil Empire’ if not their classic self-titled debut. The hardcore roots of Stray From the Path if anything allows them to further imbibe their songs with red-hot anger, and the world has as many problems for their lyrics to tackle as it did 20 years ago. Though it may not have the same shock factor and consistency of the group’s 2009 opus ‘Make Your Own History’, the latest effort from Stray From the Path is as caustic and venomous as anything else released so far this year. Those with an inclination for sociopolitics and bruising metalcore with half an hour to spare would do well to unleash it on their speakers.