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By now, if you haven't heard of Winds of Plague, you're probably living under a rock. Winds of Plague is a deathcore band hailing from California. They are known for incorporating symphonic elements into their music thanks to their keyboard player, Alana Potocnik. They were once a band that I respected greatly, with the release of their previous albums: "A Cold Day in Hell", "Decimate the Weak", and "The Great Stone War". My relationship with deathcore as a whole is slightly more positive than most metal fans, as I enjoy a handful of deathcore bands from time to time, and Winds of Plague is/was one of those bands...but this release makes me view the band through different eyes. There is a lot going wrong on this album, and it is going to be hard not to completely rage and snap my laptop in half, but I shall give it a try. On with this review!
This album has one thing surely in common with WOP's previous studio efforts: the keyboards. The keyboards on this album are actually decent. They are not the culprit of the album's low rating, oh no, in fact, they are the reason the album is not sitting at a 0% for me. They are epic sounding, albeit a little cheesy at times. They do, however, feel out of place sometimes, hidden through the fog of the breakdowns and chug-chug riffing. The intro to the album, "Raise the Dead", is decent. It starts things off with a huge, epic sounding synth orchestration...but unfortunately the rest of the album doesn't follow through this way. The breakdown in this song is actually kinda cool, it makes the album feel like it's going to be "The Great Stone War, Pt. II" which I personally would have preferred, but alas, this is not the case...as the next track "One For the Butcher" ruins things. Anyway, the intro to "Built For War" features great synths, as does the pretty beautiful "Only Song We're Allowed to Play in Church Venues" (fuck, what a shitty title) and "Monsters", which starts off very melodic with a promising guitar solo...but this is also quickly ruined. So that's really all I can say about the synths. It's really more of a "there is some gold hidden in a sea of shit" type thing. The synths are pretty good most of the time, but the otherwise shitty musical abomination covers them up, distracting the listener.
Now onto the guitar! Ah yes, the guitar. Is this band TRYING to sound like Emmure? Because they're doing a great job at it. Playing simple two chord breakdowns, which they have done before except on this album, they take it to a new level of monotony. The guitar work on this album is painfully simple and boring. The thing that made WOP's guitars better in the band's previous albums, is that the two Nick's were able to create technically proficient, yet melodic riffs and solos. Now, there are two guitar solos on this album that must be noted for actually being decent. One would be in the song "Built For War", although it's very short. This, like with how keyboards started the song off good only to have it ruined in the end, does not last long enough, and ends up being left in the dust with a shitty hardcore style riff and a "fuck with the best and die like the rest" lyrical passage. The other guitar solo is in "Monsters" and it is right there in the intro with the keyboards, as previously mentioned earlier in the review. Those two solos are the only decent guitar parts on the whole album. The rest is stale and sounds rehashed. Just chug after chug after chug. Seriously, at times, it sounds like a completely different band. Now, I know there are people who would disagree with that, but they likely haven't actually taken the time to listen to all of WOP's other albums before listening to this one. Trust me, this album is quite different. It's not the WOP of old, and I find it hard to call myself a fan of this band anymore. One of the most embarrassing breakdowns on the entire album is in the song "Most Hated" when Johnny yells "Imma let that beat drop!". It's quite juvenile. The we have that chugging breakdown just chugging away. Now, this is followed shortly after by another guitar solo, but it is a boring guitar solo, and then again, soon after, we get the same "Imma let that beat drop!" bullshit followed by breakdowns laced in synths. It sounds bipolar, if you will. There are definitely no "Anthems of Apocalypse" like songs on this album, so don't come here looking for that. Although because it's WOP, you'd expect that and nothing less, just like I did.
Up next, the vocals, and lyrics. The vocals still for the most part sound like the old Johnny Plague which, quite honestly, I was never much of a fan of his vocals. Sure, they're okay for what they are, but I find him to rely too heavily on inhales and squeals. But here, he starts using a really shitty style of hardcore shouting in some places. And it's ridiculous. I think the worst lyrics on the whole album come with the song "California". This is THE WORST song WOP has ever recorded. It sounds like Limp Bizkit with some hardcore tendencies. The lyrics are very stupid. It is a wigger nu-metal anthem, that will probably appeal to fans of bands such as Emmure *shudders* and like I said before, Limp Bizkit, and possibly Attila. Really any band that lacks talent or originality but is able to capture the attention if a teenage scene kid who wants to be "cool" and "hardcore". "California" is a musical abortion, and that is being generous. The lyrics are typical tough guy "fuck with us, we fuck you up" rubbish. This is also, I believe, WOP's most profane album, every song featuring multiple uses of the word "fuck". Which really doesn't surprise me or anything, but it helps attribute to this tough guy, "gangsta" attitude the bands is going with on this album. Basically, if you're looking for lyrics up to par with Death's album "Symbolic", this is definitely not up your alley or anywhere near it.
As usual, the bass in this album is inaudible, so I'm sorry Mr. Andrew Glover, I'm not going to bash your bass playing, because I cannot hear it! The drums, however, can be heard, and they are nothing special at all. There are almost no blastbeats on this album. Actually, there are only about thirty seconds of blastbeating, spread throughout two songs: "Built For War" and "Monsters". And it's just your standard death metal style blastbeating. Still, those thirty seconds of drumming are the only seconds of drumming worth listening to on the entire album. The rest of the drumming follows the path laid out by the chug-chug guitar riffing.
I really did want to like this album, but it's very hard to. What with the stupid lyrics, mostly bad guitar work, and wigger imagery...it's over all a piss-poor album even longtime fans of this band are overlooking, and with good reason. Sorry Winds of Plague, I'm not feeling it on this one. Better luck next time!
The guitar solos in "Built For War" and "Monsters"
The thirty seconds of blastbeating spread throughout "Built For War" and "Monsters" (hm...these two tracks are pretty much the only songs worth listening to, as they have decent guitar solos AND drum work amongst the shit)
Vocals are generic
Lyrics are stupid
"California" is their worst song since "Reloaded" from "Decimate the Weak" and it is also their worst song ever to this date
Drumming is generic
Bass could be a little louder so I could at least hear it a little
Sounds too much like Emmure
What's with this trend of deathcore bands going rap metal/nu metal now? It's ridiculous and extremely stupid. Suicide Silence was GREAT on their first two records, then they release The Black Crown with a few rap verses and Deftones knock off interludes… and yet Winds of Plague was decent at the least originally and now they release this steaming pile of wigger shit. It's horrible; not just music wise but to think about as well. I mean originally back in 2008 (I believe the year was) Winds of Plague did a bit of trolling with their fans and what not and put out a hip hop parody music video for their track "The Impaler", but it's almost ridiculous to see the band literally transform into something hip hop influenced (funny too at that).
Winds of Plague is a deathcore band from Upland, California. Yes we all know how hated deathcore is and what not, but this just puts their style of deathcore (which was actually pretty good in their midst career in my opinion) and just destroys it with this record. Generally most of the songs aren't even appealing in terms of riffs or even tempos anymore. Winds of Plague was that band in high school that was awesome to hear due to slam riffs, deep growls and roaring guitars over beautiful symphonies, now that's all wrecked with typical nu metal styles (which barely require effort to play), tons of rapping and even frontman Cooke growl raps, yes that right, he GROWL RAPS on one of these songs. It really is that dumb
The combination set for deathcore is death metal and metalcore (death metal and METALCORE, not hardcore like some are mistaken to believe) and the whole thing I find most disappointing is because of the rap metal, you can't even get the feeling like you're hearing Winds of Plague or near even metalcore nor death metal in this record at all (especially not death metal). This album is neither of those genres, it's more of which a combo between hardcore punk and rap metal. Even the lyrics on past records that were originally passionate, angry and oppressing are now replaced with how much "swag" the band thinks they have and repping themselves or whatnot (get a load of the track "California", almost sounds like you're hearing a Tupac song lyrically). The lyrics ARE rap lyrics, and that's one of the things that defeats the purpose of listening to metal or let alone anything based on rock music. Lyrically, listening to this music is to divide yourself from the lyrical buttfuckery that is hip hop… speaking of which, this seriously now makes me want to facepalm at how much I'm talking about hip hop in a metal album review.
I'm done with this, writing about this record more and more will just get me more upset. I can't believe I loved this band in high school and they destroyed themselves with this album. Get out of your gangster phases, guys, you're a metal band, not N.W.A.
I'm reviewing this one pretty much out of a sense of obligation at this point, since Decimate the Weak was an easy target that I reviewed mainly to make jokes and point out that the band really did have potential underneath the horrendous earlobecore elements. Fate then conspired to bestow a physical copy of The Great Stone War upon me, which blew my mind by actually turning out to be a pretty decent album. So a year or so later I hear they've released yet another album, this one with almost no hype behind it (there was a ton of hooplah behind DtW (which sucked) and almost none behind TGSW (which was okay)), so I figured maybe they had continued to improve upon their symphonic melodeath style they were playing around with on the previous album.
You don't have to pick up your socks this time, this is just as atrocious as you thought it'd be.
I hate to harp on aesthetics, but one look at this album really should have given me a hint to drop my expectations back down to where they were after reviewing the first album. The samurai that adorned the first two shitty albums (but not the good one) is back on the cover, front and center like he's always been. The title alone could have told me that this was going to be an almost comical trainwreck. Against the World. Man if that doesn't sound like the creed of a wannabe hardcore kid who got yelled at for not taking out the trash, then I don't know what is. The title, the blue tint, the actual artwork, just everything is a throwback to where they were before, and to the surprise of nobody except me apparently, that's exactly what happened.
I'll be the first to admit that I can get behind some retarded, chest beating brocore of the worst variety. I love For Today, and they're a bunch of really pushy Christians who pretty much just break down and yell about how you're a shitty person for being human. What Winds of Plague offers is a bunch of pushy douchebags who just break down and yell about how they DON'T RESPECT YOU 'CAUSE YOU GOT NO RESPECT AND WE DON'T RESPECT PEOPLE WHO DON'T RESPECT, RESPECT?! People like to tear into Pantera for this goofy kind of primitive tree trunk pissing, but Pantera has got absolutely nothing on Winds of Plague. The lyrical content of almost every song here consists of how awesome the vocalist and his crew are and how everybody else is a bunch of wannabe pussies who should stay out of their way. I can handle stupid lyrics and attitudes I don't agree with, but my Christ WoP has got to be the worst at this. Cook's yelling has actually gotten worse, shedding any tinge of metalness he may have previously carried, now being even more into the hardcore camp than he was before, yelling like Jasta and just as unintimidatingly.
Musically, basically all of the metal elements have been stripped away completely, and even the keys (their sole defining feature, mind you) take so much of a back seat that Rosa Parks would have to squint to see them. There are a few strong metallic parts in a couple spots (most notably the first minute or so of "Strength to Dominate"), but otherwise this is brocore to the bone. "One for the Buther", "Drop the Match", "Refined in the Fire", and most hilariously "California" showcase this expertly. Gang shouts, rapping, one note slamdowns, it's all here in abundance, almost entirely devoid of the occasional blast beat or light key section the band used to chuck at the listener occasionally. They've basically stopped playing the flip flop game and finally settled on one style to focus on. Before, the songs would be irritating due to the nonsensical hopping between hardcore, melodeath, symphonic metal, and deathcore, but now they've decided to eliminate that problem by focusing solely on hardcore, which is a shame because they really suck at hardcore. I mean really, one listen to "Drop the Match" or "California" should give so many kids flashbacks to their nu metal days, and this is supposed to be their tough, kick ass statement to the world.
What makes this album extra irritating in comparison to it's predecessors is that their trademark "boring middle of the album" is even more boring and nondescript than previous albums. I can basically tell you nothing about any songs between "Refined in the Fire" and "California". They all just kinda happen, there's almost no creativity or standout songwriting (good or bad) on any of the five or so tracks in the middle. The only reason the album picks up at all near the end is because "California" is such a hilariously poor attempt at a tough brocore anthem. Seriously, I hate to quote a section of lyrics again, but:
Put yo' haaaands up!
Reach fo' the sky!
Do what I say or let the bullets fly!
That's just... so fucking stupid. I can barely wrap my brain around that, it's just so unabashedly dumb. I don't even want to comment on it further. Just... LOOK AT IT. Look at that lunacy, that dipshittery, that fudscullery. I have to make up words to describe how stupid that is. That stanza needs a helmet, seriously.
Now, despite being uninspired and stupid tardcore that I've spent the last several paragraphs raging against, observant readers and adoring fans of mine have probably realized by now that I actually awarded Against the World a higher score than Decimate the Weak, which I've implied isn't as terrible. The thing is that while the quality here is consistently low, it's actually a better effort in my eyes because Winds of Plague actually know what they want to do this time. Flopping around like a fish out of water between three or four styles that just do not mesh makes for a very irritating listen. This, on the other hand, is consistently bad nu metal/hardcore crap but at least it doesn't keep changing it's mind every three seconds like a fussy child. Winds of Plague are a bunch of dickbag fucknards for getting my hopes up with a decent album facing the right direction before unleasing this tattooed bumcore monstrosity upon my naive, sensitive, and non-stretched earlobes. Stop toying with me you monsters.
At first glance, Winds of Plague’s music sounded interesting, as it combined the straight-edge, Hatebreed-inspired deathcore with symphonic and orchestral elements, taking cues from bands such as Epica, Dimmu Borgir, and Abigail Williams. I, for one, can tolerate most deathcore and find a lot of solid bands from the genre such as All Shall Perish, Whitechapel, Born of Osiris, and Oceano. Plus, I love symphonic metal bands that use their keyboards (or orchestras in some cases) to create a very intricate atmosphere. The idea of merging these elements sounded very good on paper, but poor in execution. On their second record, Decimate the Weak, Winds of Plague had a tendency to put in breakdowns that are out of place and have their “fuck you” attitude clash unevenly with the formal nature of the keyboards. One of the most laughable recollections was hearing Johnny Plague scream, “You wanna see us fail? Not today motherfucker!” However, their third record, The Great Stone War, improved on most of the problems that Decimate the Weak suffered from.
For their fourth album, Against the World, Winds of Plague decided to go back to their roots to make this record more fun for the scene kid crowd in Warped Tour 2011. Unfortunately, the problems that plagued (no pun intended, I swear!) Decimate the Weak rear their ugly heads once more in this album. There is far too much emphasis on their hardcore traits with the symphonic elements feeling like an afterthought. Often times, the keyboards would either be pushed aside unevenly like in ‘Refined in the Fire’ or sound out of place, such as the intruding piano in ‘Most Hated’. The “fuck you” attitude permeates throughout the entire album at full force with one of the worst examples being ‘California’, where the vocalist screams, “Look who’s back motherfuckers? Winds of Plague! Still running shit! Still on top!” This song is so out-of place from the rest of the songs that it should have at least been released as a b-side.
This album is chock full of two-step sections and chugging breakdowns that drone on for far too long, even when most of the songs are 3-4 minutes, that it makes Dream Theater compositions feel like Napalm Death snippets. But what makes Dream Theater’s epic songs great are that they are eventful, memorable, complex, and dynamic (albeit pretentious). The songs in Against the World are monotonous, overlong, forgettable, and bloated, lacking variation when they desperately need it. The guitarists play nothing but generic palm-muted chugging riffs that any other deathcore band could have written. There is literally nothing else beyond that. The bass follows the guitars 100% of the time without any variation at all.
Johnny Plague’s vocals consist of generic half-hardcore, half-death growled barks that are as dry as the Sahara Desert. Not to mention that they sound almost synthetic in the mix. The tough guy personae that he puts on come off as weak and forced. The guest stars, quite a few of them on this album, are hardly distinguishable from Johnny’s with the exception of Martin Stewart’s verses in ‘California’. You might as well have no guest vocalists at all and it would be the exact same experience.
With that said, there are moments where Against the World shines. The production is very good with a crunchy guitar tone and the bass being quite heavy in the mix. The drummer is fairly consistent for the type of music he plays. There are moments where the keyboards shine with the rest of the instruments creating a crushing background to them, such as in the outro to ‘One for the Butcher’. I’m sure that for the audience that Winds of Plague intends on pleasing, they will be fairly satisfied.
But when there is good on the record, the cons far outweigh the pros. Winds of Plague’s Against the World took every cliché that they could get from deathcore whether it’s the abuse of breakdowns, the terribly unconvincing attempts at sounding tough, or the directionless ideas such as the misuse of keyboards, and packaged them in this mess of an album. With the release of The Great Stone War back in 2009, Winds of Plague had the potential to be much more and they keep squandering it.
As lackluster as much of the hybrid genre's output has thus far been, I am not entirely oblique to the potential inherent in the fusion of death metal and hardcore music, i.e. deathcore. I've heard a handful of albums over the past few years that deliver on the promise, but painfully few in ratio to the amount being shoveled out in totality via the independent 'majors' and smaller imprints. It was only a matter of time before some of the emerging scenes' artists would apply adaptive strategies to the rapidly diminishing formula and California's Winds of Plague are clearly one such entity. You might have recognized the band's samurai mascot from their 2008 album Decimate the Weak, and here he/it sits once more in defiance of all those who would question the band's potency.
Well, I steadfastly expose my throat to the sweep of the daimyo's blade, because I am just not buying into this record. On the surface, Winds of Plagues posits an interesting merger: the blunt brutality of modern tough guy hardcore death chugging with a symphonic flair redolent of the bigger budget black metal mainstream: Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, Abigail Williams, and so forth. A curious concoction if there ever were one, and with such high visibility through the Century Media label, formidable standards of production, tight musicianship, and outside thinking, one that I would welcome were it to evoke memorable hymns to slaughter. Alas, Winds of Plague take such components and offer them in only a disparate congruence. The keyboards and the mosh-step brutality are fully in time with one another, mixed well on this fourth album, but the grace and mystique of the former can simply not obfuscate the pedestrian pounding of the other...
It starts well enough with the symphonic bombast and child choir of "Raise the Dead", but where something like Septicflesh's latest The Great Mass follows through with the execution of exotic and sweltering mystique alongside its superb guitars, this is too soon devolved by mindless chugging rhythms that would be completely empty without the accompaniment of the synths. Once the band breaks into the following "One for the Butcher", it just becomes a meandering, meathead bouncing anthem to the least common denominator. There's a half-decent thrash riff buried below the chorus, and then the band proceeds to channel a bit of Eastern mysticism with the keyboards of the bridge, but it's ultimately too much perspiration and not enough inspiration. This is the formula maintained here through other pitbound 'epics' like "Drop the Match" and "Refined in the Fire". The cheesy street struggle of the Hatebreed and Earth Crisis-derived palm mutes simply does not measure up to the atmospheric gloss above it. It's just tough guy core in sheep's clothing, the sheep being Therion or something.
Winds of Plague are not completely without talent here, they simply squander it away whole sale on their majestic, slamming drivel. For example, whenever the band breaks away from the predictable fist smashing rhythms into something faster or more thrash based, they steadily become a more inspiring outfit. The drumming here is very solid, as well as the synthesizers, provide you are the sort that goes out for such a huge, admittedly cheesy sound. The vocals are really the least impressive component, for they sound almost indistinct from thousands of deathcore and metalcore acts, and no amount of gang banging with guest vocalists like Jamey Jasta or wrestling legend the Ultimate Warrior is about to change that. I admire that these Californians are so bent on externalizing their genre to incorporate the theatrical, symphonic element, and this alone ensures that they're a more interesting act than, say, Carnifex or Whitechapel, but I am forced to wonder at their potential were they to drop the meager, frustrating mallcore overtures that no one will care about next week, and metal it all the fuck up!