REVIEW: The Acacia Strain – ‘Above/Below’

above below

Artist: The Acacia Strain
Album: Above/Below 7″
Label: Rise Records
Genre: Metal/Hardcore

Before moving forward, I’d like to start out by saying that I usually shy away from reviewing this type of material, as the modest amount of tracks doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room between “I absolutely loved it” and “I’d rather listen to my friend fart into a megaphone all day.” Nonetheless, when The Acacia Strain’s new 7″ Above/Below appeared on UTG’s newsfeed, I simply couldn’t resist. Though I had been a pretty avid fan of the Massachusetts metalheads during high school, when the fuming lyrics of Continent made for a slightly more bearable football practice, the group had somewhat fallen out of style with me since coming to college. Likewise, I figured this was the perfect opportunity to get reacquainted with the five-piece, and after multiple listens through, I promise that you’ll be more than alright leaving the megaphone at home.

Started in 2001 in Springfield, Massachusetts, The Acacia Strain first made waves locally before erupting on to the scene with 2004’s 3750, their second full-length album. After joining forces with Prosthetic Records shortly thereafter, the band continued to blossom, releasing three more albums with the label before partnering with Rise Records in April of 2010. By the time Death Is the Only Mortal dropped last year, the band had already established themselves as masters of their trade, garnering a devoted and expansive fan-base. The release cemented the group as one of Rise’s hottest acts, and the album peaked at number 50 on The Billboard Top 200, which really says something when you consider some of Vincent Bennett’s more notable lyrics (“Her entire head was sitting in my freezer / Everyone thought I was going to eat it / I don’t know why, I just wanted to keep it.”). This past May, the group parted ways with their long-time guitarist Daniel “DL” Laskiewicz, who besides Bennett was the only remaining member to have been a part of the outfit’s original line-up. To remedy this, Devin Shidaker (ex-Oceano) and Richard Gomez (ex-Molotov Solution) were added to the roster barely a month later, leaving fans’ mouths watering for new material.

This brings us to the group’s most recent effort, Above/Below — an 8-minute EP that, despite being only two tracks long, exceeds all expectations.

For those who are unfamiliar with The Acacia Strain, the album opener, aptly titled “Above,” wastes no time becoming acquainted. Listeners are immediately enveloped in a head-spinning onslaught of down-tuned guitars and thunderous percussion, as Bennett’s festering growl echoes ominously overhead, inquiring, “did you pray as they pulled out your fucking eyes?” From there the song charges on with the ferocity of a cornered animal, highlighting Shidaker and Gomez’s vast understanding of their craft. Together, the two guitarists chug forward, creating imposing assaults over spine-tingling leads, which apart from affirming their addition to the outfit, adds a new level of depth to the instrumentation; an important facet to consider in a genre where bands often struggle to stand out. Then, just as the rage-soaked medley seems to come to a head, “Above” recoils to catch its breath before plunging head-first into one final gut-wrenching breakdown that will almost certainly leave fans of American Me, Emmure, and other similar acts, giddy with delight.

“Below” functions as the pissed-off twin sibling of “Above,” and is no less enjoyable. Wasting little time, the track opens as relentlessly as its predecessor; Bennett’s thundering vocals (“We can make sure you don’t see tomorrow / I don’t believe in you”) working in sync with bombastic drum fills and unstoppable guitar work to create a gloriously livid soundscape. Again, Shidaker and Gomez slip effortlessly into the line-up, providing back-breaking accompaniment as drummer Kevin Boutot threatens to hammer his kit into dust. I also particularly enjoyed this song for its excellent use of group vocals, which I personally love due to their propensity to incite mass mayhem. The hymn, “We will drag you down below,” begins humbly at the 2:30 mark and rises like a rocket before swelling to a ruthless conclusion worthy of a standing ovation.

Still, all albums will have their naysayers. Like every Acacia Strain release, many will likely describe Bennett’s vocal delivery as lackluster, as he does not commonly venture from the low growl he has become synonymous with over the course of six records. Personally however, though some variety would be nice, I still feel that his performance is nothing short of flawless, especially taking into account his consistently dark lyrics, which act as the perfect cathartic release at the end of a long day.

Additionally, the group has also been bashed repeatedly in the past due to a supposed lack of technicality, citing their heavy reliance on chugging riffs and breakdowns. Again, I think this is nonsense, because in my opinion, if you don’t like chugging riffs and breakdowns, than why in the hell are you listening to The Acacia Strain in the first place? On top of that, Shidaker and Gomez have more than validated themselves, adding new depth to the group while maintaining their signature sound.

As a whole, Above/Below is nearly airtight. Though some could argue that this EP lacks diversity, I say, “why fix something that isn’t broken?” This latest effort is everything fans have come to expect from the five-piece and more, and in my opinion, will go down as one of the group’s best releases to date. If this is what the future holds for The Acacia Strain, I for one will be eagerly awaiting their next full-length.

SCORE: 9/10

Review written by: Kyle Florence. (Follow him on Twitter)

Kyle Florence

Kyle Florence is a proud Wisconsinite, a dinosaur enthusiast, and a lover of all things weird and whacky.
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