Ah, young love – So wild, so free, so…full of conflict. It is this very topic which Illinois-based deathcore youngsters Sworn In are choosing to emulate on their follow-up to 2013’s dark horse ‘The Death Card’. Tackling another conceptual layout for this outing, ‘The Lovers/The Devil’, might seem a bit hasty and more than a bit ‘me too’ in nature but it is with pleasant surprise that the listener may find a shockingly deep listen here.
If you’ve been following Sworn In since ‘The Death Card’ you know that the band like to create unsettling atmospheres with which to build upon. So the increasingly haunting piano piece that begins opening track “Sweetheart” might(?) feel familiar to any fan of the band. From this point on it’d be easy to categorize the heavily distorted bass and deathcore breakdowns that follow under ‘business as usual’ but dive deeper into this rabbit hole and you’ll be rewarded with a more layered, intricate sound than is immediately evident. This is thanks to drummer/writer Chris George who has stepped up his composition abilities a hefty amount since 2013, the disturbing balance of twisted melodies and aggravated, moody cacophonies of a relationship gone horribly wrong proving a fitting soundtrack to vocalist Tyler Dennen’s disstressed shrieking.
The end product, an angsty but deep deathcore romp filled with an odd but tastefully executed and catchy assortment of clean choruses, is reminiscent of a Slipknot and AFI-bred infant. The sparse usage of melody is anything but conventional, only being utilized for satirically disturbing purposes, mimicking the loss of sanity the main character is undergoing as he falls out of love after many attempts at connecting with his significant other and eventually becoming the antagonist. Song titles such as “Pocket Full of Posies” and “Oliolioxinfree” further push the idea forward that nothing is as is it seems on the surface which could be a reference to the fact that the protagonist is seemingly okay on the outside, but slipping away on the inside. This all makes for a consistent portrayal of love-lost insanity, giving an already heavy record a psychotic feel.
Even more interesting is how true to the band’s motif ‘he Lovers/The Devil‘s layout is: 13 tracks are split up into two halves: The first half of the record (7 tracks) representing The Lovers, the second half (6 tracks) representing the transition to The Devil. If you are well-versed in number lore 13 is commonly viewed as an unlucky number (and is also the insignia the Sworn In members could be spotted wearing prior during ‘The Death Card’s album cycle), 6 is the devil’s number and 7 is the number viewed as most lucky. These numbers indicate the vibe the respective half of the record they represent will contain, a nice touch. The band’s current emblem, a pair of scissors, symbolizes the couple, the boy on one blade, the girl on the other, eventually cutting each other out of their lives. This distinct symbolism adds greatly to the concept of the record.
Many of the songs purposely transition into each other or contain a musical piece that ties them together, making for a nice flow. “Sugar Lips” into “I Don’t Really Love You” and “Pocket Full of Posies” into “Sunshine” are the most notable of these natural transitions, utilizing an end-of-song piece to bridge the songs together. The confusion sets in with the final 3 tracks however, as “Scissors” glitches out into “Sour” but not in a natural way whatsoever. “Sour”‘s hip hop interlude hardly flows into “Love Drunk” causing a glaring disconnect between the tail end of the record and everything prior but perhaps that is what the band intended.
For a concept record, the sonic elements are thoughtfully placed with a combination of metallic fury, foreboding atmospheres, dissonance and breakdowns of both heavy and mental proportions completely on display. The lyrics, however, could be far better written than they are. Perhaps Tyler Dennen is the piece of the band that adds in the emo angst (with which he does a fantastic job vocally) but the stanzas, rhyme schemes and syllables just aren’t well-put-together and come across as immature. A line such as “I love this part – This is where we both fall apart!” does get its point across in moving the story forward, but it’s also poorly versed. Sworn In ARE a younger band, so one need not expect Elizabethian poetry here, but I can’t help but think that the abundance of ‘Fuck!’s could be replaced with something far more effective at portraying heavier emotions. As a storyteller though, Tyler is great and makes the tale worth following.
While listening to this album I had to continously remind myself that this was merely a sophomore record. Sworn In are playing with the furiousity and ambition of a seasoned metal band, a band who knows exactly what they want to accomplish and because of that confidence ‘The Lovers/The Devil’, minor complaints with the lyrics and admittedly thin mix aside, is an album that should not be overlooked. Be it the off-the-wall changes of tempo, the gothic soundscapes or the instrumental prowess the band members display, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more uniquely composed deathcore record at this point in 2015. Sworn In are a band to keep your eyes on.