When you write one song & repeat it 11 times.
Angsty and angry beatdown music is seemingly the norm these days. With the current crop of lower-tuned, slow-tempo playing bands such as your Apate's, your Spite's, your Knocked Loose’s and your Kublai Khan’s, it’s looking like it’s only going to grow further and larger; bringing all manner of good, average and bad bands with it. As for this review’s subject, Philadelphia’s Varials, they are certainly the latter with their debut record, 'Pain Again'. Though the young American group has been making a lot of noise of their own, by recently signing with Fearless Records and with the release of this month's said debut LP dropping. While I don’t wish to judge you too much, if you’re someone that gets excessively stoked on listening to eerily similar breakdowns and riffs over and over again, this record's definitely for you!
Certainly, this band isn't pulling any punches from the get go. The opening one-two punch of ‘The New Damnation’ and ‘God Talk’ combine Acacia Strain-esque verses and two-step parts with some large and meaty breakdowns thrown in for good measure. It’s all very by the numbers, for sure, but they're both decent enough. The ending of ‘God Talk’ even features a spot from Chad Ruhlig of For The Fallen Dreams (yeah, remember THAT band? God, that takes me back a few years) with the vocalist's trademark "I'm-talking-now-I'M-SCREAMING" vocals. Even by this very early point in 'Pain Again', there's a sense of overwhelming familiarity already and the present, and the intro to ‘Anything To Numb’ suffers from this too. However, the wicked riff that enters during the song's first tempo change actually does make me forgive such transgressions rather quickly. From here we have ‘E.D.A’, which is rather forgettable apart from the last minute or so, but it does help that the track clicks in under three minutes. As brevity in such repetitively heavy music can while not fully save the day, alleviate some of the monotonous nature.
However, ‘Colder Brother’ is a touch longer at 4:11 and the middle section contains the most interesting breakdown pattern on the entire record, but purely because it uses hi-hat hits as opposed to a crash cymbal or china. A truly shocking change up, I know. But the ambient bass driven outro that leads this cut into the title track is well done too. I mean, it’s not groundbreaking stuff, but it definitely gives the song a different kind of edge to its other siblings. Yet the title track that follows, on the other hand, is just sort of… ‘there’. It’s got breakdowns (like most of the songs on this record) and all the usual half-time sections (again, like most of the songs on this record) but there's little of note worth here with the exception of the clean sections being reminiscent of Deftones; just without all the soothing clean vocals. Notably, ‘Empire Of Dirt’ features Bryan Garris of Knocked Loose fame and I must admit, I find old mate "woof woof" a lot less monotonous than Varials own vocalist, Travis Tabron. See, Tabron is by no means a bad vocalist, and to be fair, his and Garris's vocals do work very well together. I just feel this band needs more variety in their vocals than what he has offered here. Because as soon as Garris’s part begins, it immediately feels like a banging Knocked Loose track; not a solid Varials song.
Changing the pace up now is an actual guitar solo on ‘Deadweather II’ (a "seqeul" of sorts to 'Deadweather' from their prior EP), which, again, serves to somewhat break the record’s metalcore-beatdown monotony. To once more use The Acacia Strain as a comparison again seems a little unfair, but my god does song feel reminiscent of a ‘Coma Witch’ track. Annoyingly enough, 'Deadweather II' does feel like it was cut short just for the sake of the ambient noise outro rather than anything else of worth, but that particular part serves as a nice lead into ‘Deliverance’. The only problem here, however, is that I literally heard this exact same damn trick four songs ago! And as I don’t have dementia, you ain’t slipping any of that shit past me, Varials. Looking on the bright side, ‘Deliverance’ does have a pretty decent gang vocal hook - “Show me deliverance” - but well… not much else. Yes, the ending breakdown is heavy as all fuck, but I don’t wish to say that in a way that makes anyone reading this think that I’ve suddenly forgiven this band and this song for being utterly forgettable and generic aside from a few gang vocals and a slightly heavier breakdown than usual.
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If you’re sensing a common theme here, you’d be correct in saying that it’s one of boredom monotony. I know I know – this is a beatdown record. I shouldn’t go into one such record expecting hooky songs, genre and sonic variation, nor overly interesting musical content as it’s all about the anger, the low-tunings, the mosh and the rage. And I’m okay with that, truly, I am. Yet this record just lacks a real sense of urgency as well as displaying anything truly memorable to go back to after the first listen. Going back to the Knocked Loose example and that band's 2016 record, ‘Laugh Tracks’ (which, like everyone else it seems, I quite enjoyed), they were able to write an interesting and dare I say it, catchy release within the confines of the often-stunted hardcore genre. But in the case of Varials' new record, I felt like there were near-zero interesting riffs, very few engaging sections, nor any intriguing lyrical content to delve into or pull me in. Quite honestly, ‘Pain Again’ merely felt like 11 Acacia Strain B-side tracks. Except that one of those songs had a guest vocalist and another one had a guitar solo.
I know there’s a decent-sized audience out there for ‘Pain Again’ and Varials as a whole, and I’m also sure they’ll do very well for themselves on the touring and festival circuit, which is always great to see from such a young heavy act. But overall, I cannot recommend this album to anyone that’s either looking for a good first bridge into this genre nor to someone that’s a real genre-regular. ‘Pain Again’ is meant to exist for the already deeply embedded hardcore/metalcore/beatdown fans, but even then, such listeners will know exactly what to expect and have better records to partake in instead.
1. The New Damnation
2. God Talk
3. Anything To Numb
5. Colder Brother
6. Pain Again
8. Empire Of Dirt
9. Deadweather II
11. To Lay In Sin
'Pain Again' is out now via Fearless Records.