Released: 2009, Lifeforce Records
I saw War From A Harlots Mouth opening for Cattle Decapitation, Skinless and Dying Fetus here in London in May 2007, and I remember being really very impressed by their use of jazz interludes and softer dynamics within the structures of death metal. Being a death metal newbie at the time (and obviously not having heard of Cynic or Atheist), I was blown away to say the least. Two years on and a lot of death metal later, how does IN SHOALS stack up to my memory of them?
Not very well, to be honest. The hardcore undertones have now become overtones, dominating the music to a very large extent. With mindless single-string breakdowns and tough-guy shouting in the choruses, I have to say that this isn’t my cup of tea at all. There’s a very noticeable lack of imagination in the riff department. Take Track 3 for example, ‘Briefing Security Werewolves On Red Alert’. It’s a 46 second song where absolutely nothing happens, they might as well have taken four bars off and tacked it on as an intro to Track 4, ‘Crooks At Your Door’ (which isn’t that mind-blowing a song anyway). Track 4 does however set up Track 5 nicely, with the tiniest hint of a theme which is expanded on ‘Justice From The Lips Of The Highest Bidder’.
Track 5 finally gives me what I want to hear from WFAHM, a softer side that shows good imagination on the melodic front. With lovely sweet clean chords that ring and chime, the break from the deathcore is very much welcome. They then tarnish it with awful ‘industrial’ sounds that are more annoying than progressive. This brings me to my biggest complaint about IN SHOALS, that it’s just a terribly unfocused album. I mean, there is ‘progressive’ and then there is ‘unfocused’. IN SHOALS is the latter. A good musical idea (of which there are quite a few) is rarely expanded or logically concluded.
The second half of the album, especially ‘The Certain Nothing’ and ‘Appropriate Tools Required To Intercept And Obstruct Errorism’ is infinitely better than the first half of the album. I get more of a feel of what they’re trying to do. It’s not a mishmash of semi-interesting bits thrown together, there’s more coherence and focus. “Focus” should not imply homogeneity, but a tiny thread of a theme is very much more apparent in the second half than in the first half. Unfortunately, the theme of single-string riffing rears its head throughout…
If you’re searching for some technical death metal, you won’t find here. Pestilence’s and Origin’s latest will satisfy that particular need. Metal with jazzy sensibilities? Cynic's latest is awesome, and you won't go far wrong with an old favourite in Sleep Terror's PROBING TRANQUILITY. If you’re looking for some new deathcore with a slight twist, IN SHOALS might be the best of the bunch at the moment, but I wasn’t blown away by it at all.