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Bleeding Through were, somehow, pushed into the background of the metalcore scene and overshadowed by bands that caught a lot of attention and were commercially more succesful, aka. Killswitch Engage, As I Lay Dying, All That Remains and a long, long etcetera. Fate played a trick on them, as the Californian quintet had one of the soundest and more diverse outputs that the genre could have had in its inception, that was unfortunately, obscured by simpler acts that reached bigger audiences.
"Dust to Ashes" is considerably complete and convincing for a debut. Yes, you will find the metalcore elements known by everyone, as melodeath riffs and breakdowns, but on "Dust to Ashes" they’re not brought to exaggerated levels and they flow nicely with the music. And what’s more, sometimes the band show that they can do without these resources and they showcase their strong "metal" influences, if you want to call them like that, coming from thrash or classic death metal. And if it that was not enough, there are also keyboards, that even though they don’t add much to the music, they get the job done and give the band a sort of different… musical? identity. A very interesting recipe on paper that proves to be pretty effective when carried out.
The beginning with the merciless assault of "Turns Cold to the Touch" promises a really aggressive album. If you take the song’s elements and separate each one of them, aside from the usual resources, there is also a strong death metal influence throughout the entire album whit lots of tremolo riffs and melodies and also some (disguised) "chug chugs" ala Suffocation, as well as some thrashy riffs, though in less quantity than the ones I have aforementioned. It’s really difficult to deny the influences that these genres had in the writing of the music, and no matter how disguised they are, there are certain parts that clearly speak for themselves: the riffs on the introductory track, "Just Another Pretty Face", "I Dream of July", "Reflection" are without a doubt rooted in the genres I have already pointed out; and some others, as "Lay on the Train Tracks" or "Thrones of Agony" are undeniable thrashing numbers, just listen to the main riff of the first one, that’s fucking thrash metal. I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. And the drumming is quite particular for what was going on at the moment, very energetic and diverse, with good doses of blast-beats and all kinds of nice grooves and patterns.
However, while there is a very good guitar and drum work to be found here, the album still falls short in some other aspects. One of them is Brandan Schieppati’s vocals. His screams are a sort of an intermediate, monotone thing with few to almost no variations at all, at times resembling a kind of bark. To get an idea of what they sound like, think of Matt Heafy in his "Ascendancy" era but quite deeper and a bit more consistent, so 40 minutes of his voice can turn out to be rather annoying, and when he varies his vocal technique to use his clean voice, only on the first three tracks, the results are dull and sound forced.
The other aspect is not a pro, and nor is it a con either, as it does very little to change the overall result of the record, and that is problem: it adds almost nothing to the music within the album and if we took it away the result would still be pretty much the same. At this point you may have realized that what I’m talking about are the keyboards. I understand that the inclusion of this instrument to their music helped them to differentiate themselves from most of the bands back then, but honestly, they are just there, so it’s the same as if they had never been there. If I had to highlight a song just because I had to, I’d say "Reflection", where the gal acutally plays something that recreates a slightly different feeling from what we had been listening to.
Considering that "Dust to Ashes" was their debut, as I said before, the album in its own is quite consistent and diverse for a genre that was and still is constantly criticized for being monotonous and or repetitive, only watered down by some "minor" flaws, so to say. Unfortunately, it was overshadowed by bands that at the same time were getting more recognition and having a widespread diffusion. If you can get past the corny lyrics and Brandan’s voice, go ahead, you won’t be disappointed.
At this point it is hard to imagine a world where metalcore and it’s uglier less intelligent brother deathcore were mere twinkles in the eyes of their well intentioned parents, heavy metal and hardcore punk. The first few flirtations between the genres went so well. Converge brought the raw fury and intensity of hardcore to new level, Botch and The Dillinger Escape Plan were redefining how technically proficient a hardcore band was allowed to be, and Zao were using the dark imagery and atmosphere of metal to scare the shit out of the Christian hardcore scene. Who knew that one day we’d have malformed abominations like Suicide Silence or Attack Attack staring back at us?
Looking back at it all, we can place the blame firmly on two bands. All of the poppy, radio friendly, watered down melodic metalcore schlock can be derived from Killswitch Engage. All of the knuckle dragging, brutality obsessed, meathead deathcore nonsense can be traced back to Bleeding Through. I’m over simplifying things, but you can find a lot of the late 00’s metalcore scene in the early stages of these two bands. Also as I mentioned before, neither of these bands could have foreseen that music they were making would be copied, mass produced, and reverse engineered by idiots trying to make a quick buck.
Bleeding Through’s debut, the subject at hand, is by far the most raw and unpolished release the band ever did. Even on their second record the jump in production value is startling. The vocals are obscured in distortion, mostly to make up for the lack of mixing and double tracking. The drums are flat and muddy, and the keyboards are nothing but a dull humming in the background. This leaves the guitars as the primary focus, which is nice as it’s pretty easy to hear what they’re playing, despite the low tunings.
But what they’re playing is what’s really interesting here. The riffs on this record are a mix of melodic death metal a la At the Gates or early In Flames, straight forward hardcore, and lots of Cannibal Corpse. There are tremolo sections reminiscent of both the more melodic Floridian death metal bands, and the more vile sounding Norwegian black metal bands. However as obvious as some of these touchstones may seem, the use of these riffs is strikingly different than how a more traditional metal band would have approached them. While there are blast beats aplenty on this record, the band will often build a more pummeling breakdown out a riff most other bands would have played in double time. Because of this, all of the albums breakdowns share some connection to the riffs in the rest of the composition, making the songs more fluid and coherent in the process. Anytime the band uses a breakdown it feels like an appropriate shift in rhythm rather than an attempt to get kids to kick the shit out of each in the pit.
In general, the more the band leans towards the melodic sound that they would later take up, the better they are. The opening pair of tracks “Turns Cold to the Touch” and “Hemlock Society” work much better than the more spastic and chaotic “Shadow Walker” and “Reflection” for example. Of course the melodic sections that Bleeding Through work with are a far cry from the uplifting anthems most metalcore bands sling. The soft bridge in ‘Turns Cold To The Touch” is much closer to the despair of Katatonia than the arena rock of As I Lay Dying. Without a solid melodic direction to guide them, the band can occasionally get in lost. Even then the band can sometimes miss the plot, like in “I Dream Of July” where the band discards a solid if fairly standard guitar harmony intro for a stream of increasingly less interesting hardcore variations of death metal riffs, ending with a forgettable and unexciting breakdown. The band also has problems with sticking with one idea and developing it, as can be seen on “Oedipus Complex” which jumps from a thrashy triplet riff into a Nile-esque keyboard centric section that are both strong on their own but have little to do with each other. Many of these songs could benefit by bringing some riffs back more than once, just to give a greater sense of coherence.
Even with these compositional and production flaws, it’s clear that the band is really passionate about what they’re doing here and that counts for a lot more than you’d think. It might be hard to imagine passionate and raw metalcore now that everyone’s been drowned in cookie cutter variations of it, but this album is the real deal. It isn’t anywhere near the quality of the bands later releases, and most of the songs here were rerecorded later on anyway so I would recommend this mostly from a historical perspective, but it’s still an engaging listen.