Right now there is probably no bigger band in deathcore than The Acacia Strain; and for good reason. They’ve put out three excellent albums in a row now (2006’s The Dead Walk, 2008’s Continent, and 2010’s Wormwood) and have showed absolutely no signs of slowing down. Suffice to say, Death Is The Only Mortal has a lot to live up to – you could argue that 2010’s Wormwood was the band’s breakout album, which might sound a little weird for a band that’s been around for over ten years. Death Is The Only Mortal is not Wormwood though. It’s not Continent, The Dead Walk, or 3750 either.
What is almost immediately apparent about Death Is The Only Mortal when compared to the bands previous works, is that it sure is a lot darker in tone. “Wait a minute!” you might be thinking. “That’s totally fucking impossible. This is the band that talks about hitting the reset button on all of mankind on Continent, how much darker can these guys get?” Well, the answer is a lot. When your album opens with a 911 call, you know some serious shit is about to go down. The energetic songs and melodies of past works are (almost entirely) gone, replaced with a seemingly never ending onslaught of pummeling thick riffs and a constant drone similar to a recent Meshuggah album. In fact, if you want to talk about what it looks like influenced Death Is The Only Mortal, you can really pinpoint the Meshuggah style repeated-riffs and drones throughout the record. They’re apparent in some songs more than others, but they’re definitely there. It’s actually a mixed bag; on one hand it can actually drag tracks out and make them fairly boring; check out “Our Lady Of Perpetual Sorrow” for a good example of this. The track feels ten minutes long when it’s only actually four and a half, and the problem pops up a few more times throughout the album.
Going back to the tone and mood of the album, it’s incredibly dark. But even better, it’s not dark just because of the production (I would actually argue that the production on Death Is The Only Mortal is at best underwhelming, but more on that later), but because that’s the message that The Acacia Strain wants to send to it’s listeners. Within the first two minutes, you’re hit with the lyrics “Stop chasing your dreams // They will never come true” or, even better, “Just when I thought it was over // They found the bodies at the mouth of the river” from later on in the album. Oh yeah, vocalist Vincent Bennet’s lyrics are still as smug and clever as ever, which is a great thing. It’s one aspect of their music that has always separated The Acacia Strain from the flock of mediocre deathcore bands, and put them on top of the pile. Rounding out the album are riffs that sound absolutely killer, expertly changing from chugga-chugga to melodic just when you think you’re about to be bored of them. “Victims Of The Cave” is a great showcase for this, managing to keep your attention throughout and never becoming stale. Drums are good, although I can’t help but think the slower style of songs on Death Is The Only Mortal sort of limit drummer Kevin Boutot’s creativity a bit.
I keep coming back to the general mood and atmosphere of the album, but god damn it really is one of the best things about it. If Wormwood was the soundtrack to the apocalypse, Death Is The Only Mortal is the soundtrack of the aftermath. Songs like “The Mouth Of The River” and “The Chambered Nautilus” contain and incredible “twang” like quality to them, creating a sort of soundscape that just invokes hopelessness. That may sound horrible but just remember that you’re listening to an album that contains a song about dumping someones body in a river, so you should expect that sort of thing. For a final thought; I usually harp too much on the subject of production in my reviews, but I personally found the production on Death Is The Only Mortal underwhelming. Everything seems a tad too muddy and mixed together that it sometimes sounds a little sloppy. Besides some filler (I could never really get into “Our Lady Of Perpetual Sorrow” even after 10+ listens, and stretches of “Time And Death And God” are rather boring as well) that’s my only major complaint about Death Is The Only Mortal.
Don’t be surprised if you see Death Is The Only Mortal on my end of the year favorite albums list. It’s an album where the more you listen to it, the more you’ll appreciate it. That might go against everything you know about “deathcore”, but I think by now The Acacia Strain has transcended any sort of genre boundaries. At this point in their career, and with having put out so many great albums, it’s safe to say that when you see a release from The Acacia Strain you can pencil them in for another great one. I suspect if I wrote this review a month from now, I might have given it a higher score. So don’t take too much stock in it; instead just go and listen. They’ll most likely win you over somehow.