“We break the mold.”
That’s the last line of the title track from Calloused, Gideon’s latest effort from Facedown Records. Unfortunately — when it comes to this album — that’s just not at all true.
Over the last few years, it’s seemed more and more that there is a true “Facedown Sound.” (I understand that this is somewhat of an unfair generalization, and Facedown has released numerous incredibly unique records, but stay with me here.) Heavy breakdowns, vaguely nu-metal single-note riffing, dark and atmospheric guitar leads, confident lyrics, melodic-yet-still-aggressive choruses. It’s not a bad sound by any means — it’s heavy and accessible without being silly and overly radio friendly — but it’s just that when I throw on a record and can accurately guess what it’s going to sound like before I hit play is when it becomes a problem.
That was definitely the case with Calloused.
Let me back up a bit: This is not a bad record. At all. Actually, it’s rather good. Right from the beginning, we’re greeted with a mid-tempo metalcore sound, not unlike Gideon’s former labelmates For Today. Heavy and somewhat technical, but still listenable, the tempo (and template) is set for the rest of the album. One thing that immediately stands out, something unlike so many modern metalcore bands that are concerned with brutal mosh part after brutal mosh part, is that there is a really nice drive to this album. Less and less bands are focusing on including mid-tempo-to-fast parts in their songs, always focusing on being as slow and heavy as possible.
Gideon is focused more on writing songs that carry the listener through rather than just pummeling them over and over. Calloused has a bounce to it that flirts with the line between metalcore and nu-metal, having a similar feeling to some of Bury Your Dead’s later material. Standout tracks like “Calloused,” “World of Hurt” and album-closer “Drifter” really showcase this heavy-but-thoughtful songwriting approach — although a well-worn path — that works so well. To put it absolutely bluntly: having soaring melodic choruses (you know, the good cop/bad cop metalcore sound) is almost an immediate turn off for me.
Where Gideon excels is adding a layer of grit to their melodic singing. It sounds strained, focused more on staying aggressive and passionate than giving the listener a break from the pummeling. It’s refreshing to cynical ears and is much more fitting with the music.
Even when the singing does get cleaner and more polished (like in “Survive”) where the chorus is sung by Beartooth’s Caleb Shomo—there is still an air of urgency and grittiness to it that keeps the melody grounded.
Lyrically, once again, this is very familiar ground. Confident, strong and passionate. Lyrics about rising above difficulty, leaving behind fear, casting out doubt — you know the drill. I think that
Gideon, like so many other current faith-based hardcore bands, could benefit from a bit more soul-searching and being more introspective and personal. These are anthemic lyrics, to be sure, but there isn’t much to latch onto here or to really identify with at a deeply personal level. So much of the Bible focuses on true catharsis and struggle, and this is a concept that seems to be completely ignored in a genre so well-suited for it.
The production on Calloused is great. Recorded with Will Putney at the Machine Shop (The Acacia Strain, Impending Doom, Misery Signals), there was no question if it would sound big, heavy and full of detail. The drums sound perfect and machine-like, and the tones, in general, are thick and full while still feeling natural.
I do tend to have a problem with a lot of the glitchy guitar sound effects in the middle of breakdowns. Even though they sound great on record, they are next to impossible to pull of live. Call me a purist — I like the live presence of a heavy band to sound like the album.
All in all, Calloused is a solid, enjoyable listen. Although they aren’t covering any new ground whatsoever, I do think that they are doing it better than most of their contemporaries. Well-written, well-played and perfectly produced, Gideon has delivered an album that’s sure to take them to the next level in their career. I just wish I hadn’t heard it so many times before.