Ohio hardcore punk legends Beartooth have returned with their 4th studio album ‘Below‘, the band’s heaviest release since their debut in 2014. ‘Below‘ is their darkest album yet lyrically, with frontman Caleb Shomo stating that the record is a “time capsule of 2020”, and deals with the darkest depths of his mind and the mental struggles he faced in the past year. Sonically ‘Below‘ takes on a new tone as well, adding in thrash and doom metal influences to the band’s signature sound.
‘Below‘ opens up with the title track, a loud, raging cut with some of the nastiest screams Caleb Shomo has ever unleashed. Similarly to the previous album opener “Greatness or Death“, bouncy riffs propel the song forward and it’s opening moments know how to get the listener headbanging. The track sets the tone for the rest of the album, with heavily distorted guitars and filthy screams and pummeling riffs broken up by stadium-ready choruses and catchy vocal melodies heard throughout almost every track on the album. Lyrically the song takes a much darker tone than the two past Beartooth records, reveling in Shomo‘s mental health struggles during the pandemic, a theme heard that is continued throughout the rest of the album.
The record then flows into three previously released singles, two of which, “Devastation” and “Fed Up” are stellar tracks and highlights of the album. The former was the first taste we got of ‘Below‘ over two months ago now and it still holds up. It’s a great song that sticks to the band’s signature brand of hardcore punk, with a massive wall of guitars and some of their best riff’s to date. The latter channels the group’s punk side, with loud guitars and one of the catchiest hooks on the album and is an absolute barn-burner of a track and extremely well-written.
“Dominate” is the heaviest song the band has released since 2014’s ‘Disgusting‘, with a brutal thrash riffs and brutal blast beat sections, It’s one of the most aggressive and angry sounding songs the band has put out in a long time and it’s incredibly enjoyable. It’s the song on the album that you expect to hear after seeing the classic metal influenced cover artwork. The track fires on all cylinders, pummeling through everything in its path, The entire song is menacing the entire way through and never lets up and easily is one of the best songs of the record.
The driving punk track “Phantom Pain” is another highlight of the album, driven by fast paced drumming and throttling guitars. The song features the heaviest and most pulverizing moment on the album with it’s final breakdown, unleashing absolute chaos in an unexpected fashion that’s sure to start mosh pits wherever it’s played. It’s an absolute firecracker of a song and a standout in the band’s discography. Lyrically it’s one of the darkest cuts of the record as well, opening with the lines “Struck up a deal with the reaper/Had all my prior transgressions absolved/I’ve been dosed with the ether/Nobody cares when you’re all alone/Still looking for the bright side/I’m in love with the dark side/Still dead on the inside/I look dead on the outside” as Shomo deals with his inner demons and depression.
However, ‘Below‘ isn’t all dark lyricism and bone-crushing brutality as one would have been led to believe by the previously mentioned tracks, Beartooth is widely considered to be the next big stadium rock band, and there is no shortage of arena anthems or accessible choruses on the album. Case in point being “The Past Is Dead” and “Skin“, the former being one of the weaker moments overall on the record with lots of “woah-oh-ohs” and a lackluster breakdown that certainly adapts the album’s sonic palette to the arena style. The latter is a bass driven body-positivity anthem that is sure to inspire many lyrically, despite mostly having generic pop-rock instrumentation and falling into the tropes of the genre musically. Don’t get me wrong, neither are bad songs by any means and certainly work well as radio singles, but in context they kill the overall momentum of the album and cause some pacing issues with the tracks before and after them being like whiplash in comparison.
The hard rock tracks “No Return” and “The Answer” feel like relatively hard versions of the previously mentioned tracks, with mid-tempo guitar riffs and ambient lead lines throughout. While both tracks show moments of promise, they feel too similar to the band’s previous hits “Sick of Me” and “Disease” and unfortunately wind up forgettable with their placements in the album tracklist, especially with the former being sandwiched between the two heaviest cuts on the album.
“Hell Of It” is one of the heaviest tracks of the album with almost no clean vocals and a screamed, though repetitive chorus. It’s the “Bad Listener” of the album, a track made to set off the mosh pits live but lacks substance and the chorus ultimately feels weak and tiring and one of the weirdest sound snare samples heard on the record. It feels like a metal version of bands like AC/DC, which has always been an influence on Beartooth, but this is the first time a song on a record has that feel. The pop-punk influenced “Won’t Give it Up” has it’s promising moments but ultimately fails to stand out and feels mostly forgettable and feels like a b-side from the band’s 2016 album ‘Aggressive‘. The song’s lone stand-out moment comes in a tremolo picked breakdown and refreshing lead guitar licks, but it doesn’t capitalise on it’s strengths.
Below ends on a different note than previous Beartooth releases, the ironically titled instrumental “The Last Riff” closes the album with the longest track on the album. A droning synth and bass line builds into doom metal guitar riffs and instrumentals feeling like the best way to close out an album with no slow tracks at all and fully leaning into the doom metal influence that was heavily advertised, but not so heavily noticeable on the most of the songs themselves.
The unfortunate flaw of the album is that Beartooth has created a formula and sticks to it. Always. Sure, it varies in degrees of heaviness, but the problem with ‘Below‘ is this. There is nothing new here. Half of the record sounds recycled from previous releases and the songs that do stand out are standard Beartooth fare. It’s a good album and there’s some great songs on it, but even the new elements don’t feel new and by this point in their career, you can pretty much expect what you’ll be getting on a new Beartooth album. Every song on the album, regardless of whether it’s rock, metal, or punk based, has the same structure and formula. It’s a great formula that makes for some amazing choruses and great riffs, but it also contributes to the slow pacing of what is a very high energy rock album and most of the second half of the album tends to feel forgettable when listening through because of that. Overall, ‘Below‘ is a solid release and a step in the right direction for the band who has proven they aren’t a one trick pony as many of the band’s detractors would have you believe. ‘Below‘ is an album best listened to with speakers cranked up to 11 and is a cathartic listen for those who can relate to Caleb’s struggles detailed in the lyrics.
Check out Beartooth‘s new album ‘Below‘ out now on Spotify and anywhere music is streamed.