About ten years ago, I remember a new sound entering the metal- and hardcore scene. The down-tuned, first-five-frets-of-the-lowest-string previously only heard on nu-metal records. (Or in Meshuggah songs, but they were still a niche band at the time.) Bands I already liked that were previously overly-melodic (Underoath) or just random chaotic parts between chunky breakdowns (Norma Jean) were bringing in this style of riffing, and it was an exciting new frontier to accessibility in heavy music. What’s not to love about the big riff in Machine Head’s “Ten Ton Hammer”? Or every Slipknot breakdown ever?
But then djent happened.
If you need your first taste of djent (so-named as an onomatopoeia, the phonetic spelling of the distinct guitar style within the genre), nearly every heavy album released in the past five years has a few parts in it in the style. Djent, or the use of its riffs, has become de rigueur. It’s not even a trend anymore; it’s par for the course.
With the songs on The Birthright, a four-song EP, Shreveport, Louisiana’s Brother Wolf are no exception to the rule. “Like Father, Like Son”, the first track, immediately starts in with it. A heavy dose of lo-fi effects on the guitars and drums tee up the riff before pummeling the listener with a groove-laden, yet interesting-enough, riff the songwriters probably have heard a thousand times before. Chaotic, mathcore-style drumming and angular semi-technical riffing carries the listener in between these djent grooves, nu-breakdowns and melodic, clean-sung choruses. (Yes. Clean-sung.) I can’t say I didn’t see it coming, either. Barely a full minute into the EP, Brother Wolf pull out another hallmark of the genre — soaring, high-register, pitch-corrected melodic vocals. Melodic singing doesn’t immediately make a heavy song bad. Unfortunately, here it’s just one more layer of mediocrity and it rings sour.
This pattern of songwriting continues through the full 20-minute EP, but it’s not all bad. There are some interesting and intricate guitar playing in “On Tall Towers,” (think August Burns Red) and EP closer “Fool Me Once” feels passionate. Like nearly all other records in this genre, the production is huge. The sound is crisp and clear, the performance is robotic and precise.
The five guys in Brother Wolf obviously know what they are doing. They know how to write songs they know show rats near and far will adopt. The problem is the level of musical innovation is so incredibly low on The Birthright, I fear if Brother Wolf doesn’t start flexing their creative muscles soon, they’ll fade into single-note obscurity.