Over the last 15 years, metalcore bands have always been a dime a dozen. Originally, metalcore was exactly what you’d think: metal brought down to earth with the sensibility of hardcore. In 2014, metalcore generally means heavy mosh parts, synthesizers and clean-sung choruses. Paris, France’s Merge leans toward the latter end of the metalcore continuum, but they do keep it more interesting than most on their new album, Elysion.
At first listen, Elysion sounds like a mix between Thrice’s later material mixed with any young band on Rise or Victory’s current rosters. Take that sound and add the production sheen and spacial sound of 30 Seconds to Mars, and you’ll have a good idea of what Merge is going for here.
The album starts out strong with “Lighters,” which lays out the songwriting formula for the album. Heavy, rolling and chugging verses, not unlike August Burns Red, that lead into epic choruses (often feeling like Inhale/Exhale), and finishing out with even more epic, post-rock influenced parts.
As the album drew on, it becomes harder not to check out from the listening experience. The songs aren’t much different from each other, and the spacey, ambient nature of much of their sound makes it easy to get lost in it, lending itself more as background music than an album you are actively engaged with.
The vocals are definitely this album’s weakness. I’m not sure if it’s the production – because everything else sounds big and amazing – but they come across thin and out of place. The screamed vocals aren’t anything out of the ordinary, and Anthony Hamin’s clean singing feels slightly off-key at points. Beyond that, it sounds like he hasn’t really found himself as a vocalist; it sounds like he is still experimenting with different styles. (If he’s aiming to keep things fresh, it’s overdone and feels forced.) The musical nature of this album really makes the lyrics feel like an afterthought, treating the vocal sound as more of an instrument than as an end in itself.
Merge are at their best when they lean on the post-rock or post-metal sound, and just let the songs open up, adding layer after layer of guitar and vocal effects with long, slow driving drums and bass. They excel at taking layered, spacey, reverb-and-delay-soaked guitar parts and letting them soar above the staccato rhythm section.
If I tried to come up with one word of advice for Merge, it’s “editing.” Editing would be this band’s best friend. They try a lot of styles and a lot of vocal sounds, and they could really benefit from a producer helping them strip out unnecessary elements. But if modern metalcore is your thing, Elysion has something for everyone – and Merge has real potential to set themselves apart from the crowd if they continue to pare down their sound.