It’s a metalcore album.
In all seriousness though, when I got assigned to do the newest record by Texas-based metalcore band Oh, Sleeper, I was a little bit worried. Quite frankly, my ears just aren’t accustomed to the genre and thus every metalcore band sounds really similar to me, which is a probably when you need to give an opinion about it. And so I took to the internet, and asked around on some message boards to help me out so that I could differentiate between the bands that are more renowned and the ones that are closer to the bottom of the barrel. See, metalcore gets a bit of a bad rap – a lot of people consider it to be “entry-level” metal, a transitional genre that people get into only until they discover “real” metal.
Speaking from experience, at least a small part of this is true, even though it only applies to the more commercial bands of the genre; it was the likes of Avenged Sevenfold and Lamb of God that got me into thrash and death metal, and after I got to that point, I rarely, if ever looked back. But in truth metalcore can, at its best, be a unique genre with its own quirks. At the same time, the overall feel of the genre is pretty much the same across the board – relentlessly aggressive, extremely fast, and supremely technical. It’s also rather stone-faced; there’s nary a sense of humour to be found just about anywhere in the genre.
Despite the fact that I still don’t really like metalcore, I at least discovered what is more commonly considered “good” and “bad”. The stuff that’s more objectively good is the stuff that’s more unique, and from what I’ve heard, seems both A) noisier and B) more influenced by traditional metal genres. The bad stuff is a lot simpler both in composition and general tone, and often comes off as a laundry list of metalcore staples – breakdown after breakdown after breakdown, essentially. The good bands, like the absolutely excellent group Converge, use much more experimental guitar tones, take a lot of influence from thrash and black metal (among other things), and have much stronger compositions. They never get into a mindset of “here is the breakdown section; here is the two-step section” and so on – the songs tend to flow from one section to the next in a spastic rage of intensity.
Oh, Sleeper’s newest album Children of Fire definitely falls into the good category. All those good things that I just talked about are here – the fluid compositions, the over-the-top technicality, the emotional intensity. Certainly, one can hear how some of these songs are pretty commercial – take the anthemic chorus of “Claws of a God” for example – but for the most part, the album is full of relatively unique sounds and flows really well over its mercifully brief half-hour runtime. Oh, it’s also a concept album; apparently their last album concerned itself with some mumbo-jumbo about God fighting the Devil, and this is supposed to be a continuation of that. The Wikipedia entry states that the album “ends with the destruction of the world that is somehow due to everything that happened”. I’ll leave it at that.
I’ll admit that I don’t really intend to listen to Children of Fire ever again – I just don’t really like the sound of most metalcore. So yeah: if you’re not into metalcore, this isn’t going to change your mind in the slightest. But speaking objectively, I can see that this is a well-made album; metalcore aficianados will definitely be into it, so if you’re one of those, check it out.