Album Review: Counterparts - 'Nothing Left To Love'

28 October 2019 | 12:52 pm | Alex Sievers
Originally Appeared In

More Counterparts for the pile.

Let's not pretend: Counterparts are very fucking good at what they do. The main problem for me is, it's all they do now. Seeing the band support Northlane on their recent Australian headline tour highlighted this: a decent 11 song setlist that started out well but quickly became a chore to sit through. (Barring the set stand-outs of 'Witness' and 'The Disconnect.') Ten years ago, on debut LP, 'Prophets,' Counterparts had this fast-paced, aggressive metalcore sound that, while not original in the slightest, was still well made. A sound that morphed into something more dynamic and melodic on their impressive sophomore, 2011's 'The Current Will Carry Us Home.' Then, the finest elements of both were then honed into what remains their best album: 2013's 'The Difference Between Hell And Home.' And it's almost like Counterparts know they reached their peak with that LP, as every record since has remained within that same songwriting feel, the same safe sonic space, now all a matter of diminishing returns with 'Nothing Left To Love.'

When this record was first revealed, vocalist Brendan Murphy stated that: "I wouldn’t hold your breath for anything groundbreaking," and "If you fuck with the band you’ll probably love it, and if you don’t then maybe we’ve finally honed our craft enough for you to give a shit." I'm honestly quite torn about that statement. I commend Brendan for his bluntness in being honest about what their latest work is, for not bullshitting people, and for avoiding a lot of the usual pre-release PR spin that other bands often succumb to. And I think he'd be the first one to admit that his band is just pulling heavily from older groups like Misery Signals. But on the other hand, admitting that you just made another record in light of your last three sounds kinda lazy, and cannot be used as an excuse by fans that others must like it.

Ever since I published this piece about their sixth albums lead single, 'Wings Of Nightmares,' I've actually had a couple of my friends in music mention that they know I'm not a fan of the band when asking me for my take on this latest record. On the contrary, I'm actually a big Counterparts fan! I count their second and third records as some of the best melodic hardcore releases of the decade, and I even had posters of 'The Current...' artwork and the band's old promo photos up on my bedroom walls as a teenager. Because I loved the music that they made. The thing is now, that's the only music they make; nothing's moved forward in about six years. This is either a case of me now out-growing Counterparts, or Counterparts just not growing as a band. Who knows, maybe it's both? I also wouldn't compare this record so closely to what came before it, like 2017's 'You're Not You Anymore,' if it actually differentiated itself from those predecessors. But it doesn't add or subtract anything from the adhered to formula, so comparisons aren't at all unfair. Because if you've already got the best iteration of something, then why settle for something lesser? I know I sure wouldn't.

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'Nothing Left To Love' might as well be self-titled, as that's how much of a "Counterparts" record this is. It's like a band covering their own material, a carbon-copy of past records. The quick-fire, palm-muted guitar chugs and lead work from Alex Re and Blake Hardman that switches between brief technical runs and expansive melodic layers; the hardcore punk beats, triplets, and booming metalcore breakdowns driven by drummer Kyle Brownlee; and Brendan's vocal delivery that slide between spoken vocals and those much-loved screams and impassioned roars of his - it's all there, people. All of the I's are dotted and all the t's are crossed. And while it's fine, and never awful, that's as far as it goes for me, personally.

The band can throw in pitched vocals and cleaner harmonies, as they do during the refrains of 'Paradise and Plague' and 'Separate Wounds,' and they can also add in some ambient intros, as they do on the latter, but those aren't at all new ideas for them. (They're also worlds away from the best hooks the band has written too, like 'Outlier.') They're all competently incorporated, no question about it, but I'm left hungering for something new and different from this group. Yet that's just not this record. This isn't a matter of them needing to make up a whole new genre, just the band needing to do something genuinely new for themselves. And I know that they've got that adventurousness in their bones. Hell, they didn't get to where they are now through blind dumb luck; they got to where they are now in heavy music by being a talented, hard-working act. Yet 'Nothing Left The Love' is the sound of safety, of complacency.

'Nothing Left To Love' does have its strengths. The self-destructive and defeated lyricism about depression, suicide, losing loved ones, pressing on in the face of personal adversary and mental anguish is as resonating and as palpable as its ever been for the band's music. This is something I will never knock this band for: their honest, forthcoming lyrical content never ceases to be compelling. It is always emotionally-moving and offers some of the most relatable sentiments in modern hardcore right now bar a few exceptions. For all of my talk about Counterparts repeating themselves musically, the lyrics are actually the only thing about this band that I really hope never changes.

Song-wise, the "should have let you died" breakdown on 'Your Own Knife' is one of the heaviest, sickest moments from the entire record, and the string-skipping, melodic and vibrato-heavy guitar leads of 'Imprints' are pulled off really well. Elsewhere, the atmospheric, spoken-word bridge on 'Cherished' was a real highlight, but was a section that also could've been expanded upon and gone somewhere more interesting. Yet it's just that: a bridging piece between what is more of the same old from Counterparts. There's also a very similar passage during the second-to-last number, 'Ocean Of Another,' one that suffers from the exact same issue: that melodically-focused part is just way too short and in another life, it could've been fleshed out much better.

We all know Counterparts love their cleaner-sounding instrumentals, their melodic shifts, their ambient/atmospheric moods. It's been a staple of certain songs of theirs for years now! Yet I sorely wish they'd see these sounds all the way through instead of being reduced to little detours in the new songs. But this is right where the cavernous closing title track comes out to play. It's a beautiful, deep, floating atmospheric song, one that doesn't really retreat back into the safer, heavier Counterparts style; seeing a lighter but layered Counterparts blossom forward. It's like a follow-up to 'Reflection' and is my most cherished song off this new LP by a country mile, as it's actually something different but also something good too - it's a great finale, and one song I'll return to frequently. The caveat is that I yearned for the entire LP before it to follow the same vision of its finishing titular song. Not necessarily in sound, but in intent: trying out new shit and seeing where it all goes. I have hope, a fleeting hope, but a hope nonetheless that Counterparts will evolve into something fresher next time around.

On LP #6, Counterparts prove once more they can write another Counterparts record to add to the pile. One of the strangest things about Counterparts is how much has changed for them but also not changed either; the revolving door line-up over the last few years contrasted with the same old musical style, with no new flavours, now set across multiple albums. People who adore Counterparts will no doubt love this new record because it'll be exactly what they wanted; precisely what they expected from the band. And I hope that those people sincerely enjoy 'Nothing Left To Love,' I truly do. However, if you've never once understood the hype surrounding this Canadian metalcore/melodic hardcore band, then you sure as shit won't get it now. Or if you're like me, hoping that a band you respect and like, has finally explored new songwriting avenues and changed things up, you'll be left high and dry by what is an average, far-too-familiar record.

  1. Love Me
  2. Wings Of Nightmares
  3. Paradise & Plagues
  4. The Hands That Used To Hold Me
  5. Separate Wounds
  6. Your Own Knife
  7. Cherished
  8. Imprints
  9. Ocean Of Another
  10. Nothing Left To Love

'Nothing Left To Love' is out Friday, November 1st.