Metalcore bands are embracing horror elements more often lately, and stylistically it makes sense: the artists tend to express anguish and fear through lyrics while purging anger with a barrage of ultra-violent riffs and rhythms, much in the same way a good horror story can alternate subtle, emotional chills with shocking violence. The mix of harsh-voiced verses with melodic chorus vocals has its share of outspoken detractors – many of whom just don't like mixing their metal flavors, which is understandable – but balance is key to making the whole thing work. Although they're recent additions to the field, St. Louis five-piece Tear Out the Heart carry off this balancing act fairly well in their first full-length album, appropriately titled Violence.
Blending the song structures of straight rock and pop with deep, dark hardcore riffs and breakdowns, Tear Out the Heart fall closer to bands like the excellent Motionless in White, sharing many of the same themes and atmospheres, rather than falling in line with genre giants like As I Lay Dying (the yardstick by which most metalcore is measured). The harsh vocals by frontman Tyler Konersman draw as much from death metal as hardcore, making the clean pop vocals by bassist Isaac Etter seem fragile by comparison; those polar opposites come dangerously close to shattering the whole listening experience, but the emotional content stays intact, thanks to some impressive editing and multi-tracking, not to mention the band's technical tightness.
Apocalyptic soundbites and sweeping synths form an atmospheric intro for “Dead By Dawn,” before mighty dropped riffs by guitarists Josh Spohr and Matthieu Murphy fall in lock-step with some tight double-kick drumming by Matt Epstein (who really blasts it in the track “Eternal Shadows”), chugging, bending and screaming in the mode of Devin Townsend. Now, if you cringe at the idea of crashing this kind of style headlong into a synth-backed pop chorus, you'd better turn back now, because you're in for a lot of this... but weirdly enough, it actually works. “Infamous Last Words” goes heavier (as you can hear in the video at the end of this article), with fewer pop elements, while “Crucified” calls up elements of the melodic metal styles pioneered by Swedish bands like In Flames. The riffs go hard and deep in the title track (which sports a nice, nasty riff) and “Undead Anthem,” which put more emphasis on hardcore, but “Coffin Eyes” and the chaotic “Only Posers Die” dish up a hearty side of blackened death metal as well. Piano blended with an echoing guitar lead lends gothic overtones to “Feed Me a Stray Cat,” and returns to lend a somber texture to the break of the closing cut “Darker Tides,” which includes a rare but effective moment of soft, subtle vocals.
With an already sizable fan following built on the strength of their live performances, Tear Out the Heart make an impressive studio debut here; thanks to a powerful undercurrent of menace and just a touch of doomy gothic atmosphere, the songs' sometimes polarizing styles are kept in check by some seriously dark metal and equally ominous lyrics, and it all makes for a pretty intense and compelling listen. For a sample of their best work on the album, check out the new video for “Infamous Last Words” below...