Released: 2017, Agonia Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Between the myriad lineup changes over the years - including a half-dozen drummers and an equal number of guitarists - and more recent label travails, it's been a pretty tough slog for Ontario's Threat Signal since they burst onto the modern metal scene with Under Reprisal a decade ago. Founding frontman Jon Howard is the lone surviving member from that time, and the band's new fourth album Disconnect took six years to finally get made after their departure from Nuclear Blast Records.
Due out Nov. 10 on Poland-based Agonia Records, which is really more of a death metal specialty label, Disconnect shows the band certainly have been busy in terms of songwriting, despite the long lag. A mish-mash of metallic styles new and old, Disconnect has a sound that is at the same time a bit dated yet very contemporary, with Howard leading the way with his rangy vocals. It's a somewhat disjointed affair – befitting its title, perhaps - but it definitely has its moments.
For one thing, Disconnect is jarringly heavy, even bombastic at times. I don't recall the band ever being this thunderous, but Howard and lead guitarist Travis Montgomery – who produced the album – really muscle things up here. The moody, largely acoustic “Betrayal” provides the only real prolonged respite from the clamor.
And the beefy presentation certainly gives things a lift during the more aggressive moments, and provides enough edge to – barely - keep the rousing, clean-and-scream choruses from sounding too Linkin Park-like. The choruses really get done to death here, and not only make for some awkward contrasts, as on the tech-deathy opener “Elimination Process” or its djenty follow-up “Nostalgia,” but echo just about every other band that has gone that similar route – from Amaranthe to Killswitch Engage, etc.
Sure, Howard has a versatile voice, but the strategic, emphatic cleans seem contrived when they keep getting trotted out no matter the context. They're fine for the anthemic hard rock of “Falling Apart” or “Walking Alone.” For the more vehement prog/thrash hybrid of “Exit The Matrix” or “Aura,” not so much.
And Threat Signal are really at their best here on tunes like “Matrix” and “Aura” or - “To Thine Self Be True” and “Dimensions” - where they venture beyond “modern metal” convention and embrace melodic death/power metal dexterity, math-metal elasticity or speed metal rambunctiousness, which they do in one way, shape or form over a good two-thirds of Disconnect. Granted they overdo things on the 10-minute-long closer “Terminal Madness,” which wanders all over the place - including a hulking breakdown and smooth jazz-like aside – but I guess that's symptomatic of having six years to work on the material. It's amazing there's not more of that.
If nothing else, Disconnect gets Threat Signal back into the game. Even though they have been touring somewhat steadily, a new album gives them more viability and provides something for them to continue to build on. Maybe next time they can do something about the rote choruses.