Review: Signs of the Swarm – Beneath the Low & Empty
The follow up better be called Beneath the High & Full
2022 and 2023 have been massive years for deathcore. Several bands have been dropping releases and catching a lot of hype and attention. Most of the popular releases are more in the vein of symphonic deathcore, but the “brutal” variety of deathcore has taken a bit of a backseat to its more over-the-top counterpart. However, that doesn’t mean there’s no brutal deathcore, and Pittsburgh-based brawlers Signs of the Swarm are flying that flag high. Their 5th full length record, Amongst The Low & Empty, dropped July 28th 2023 through Century Media Records. For those who aren’t into the all-encompassing nature of symphonic deathcore, this record is a great alternative. Its traditional execution of the style is surprisingly refreshing.
Signs of the Swarm has had a revolving door of musicians over the last 9 years, but the one constant is Bobby Crow. Initially starting as a drummer, he would cycle through bass and guitar through changes in the group’s rogue’s gallery. He eventually would find his way back behind the kit for their last few releases and still remains there for album number 5. David Simonich has served as their vocalist since 2018 and shows a lot of progression and growth on this record. The newest editions to the group (joining in 2022 and 2023 respectively) are Michael Cassese on bass, and Carl Schulz on guitar. For a group that rounded out their lineup this year, they display great chemistry and already have a well-established, dynamic presence that will most likely only grow stronger on future releases.
While most of this record is pretty by the numbers when it comes to brutal deathcore, Signs of the Swarm put their best foot forward with the title track (which served as the first single of the project). “Amongst The Low & Empty” contradicts the prior statement by having a solid melodic edge. This edge helps the beginning of the record stand apart from other deathcore releases this year as it doesn’t feel as over the top. Each band member turns in solid performances, with some great rhythms between the bass and drumming, which backs some truly brutal vocals and spine-snappingly sharp guitar work. Bonus points for the absolutely sickening breakdown. Track two, the second single dropped in promotions, “Tower Of Torsos” is a full-scale assault. Once again, technically cutting drums and pulverizing vocals are highlights of the piece. It’s not a very dazzling or high-reaching number, it’s just a very pleasing by-the-numbers knuckle duster of a track. My favorite moment of the song might just be the eerie scratchy strings section into the guttural breakdown—absolutely chilling. “Pray For Death” invokes elements of a Slipknot or Mudvayne song, the notably Joey Jordison-esque drums in the beginning bring a nostalgic 2000s feel to this cut. While it’s a little too similar to the first two tracks for its own good, its aggressive, take no prisoners attitude still kept me engaged.
“Borrowed Time” however doesn’t do much to change up the overall vibe of the record and it gets a little too noticeable near the end of the track. Elements of the songs begin to bleed together. They cross over not in a seamless way that adds to the album experience, but in a way that just makes the unique qualities of each song indistinguishable from each other. Its saving grace is the industrial elements that add a claustrophobic and unnerving quality to the album’s sonic template. “Between Fire & Stone” was the necessary change the tracklist needed. While initially not standing out much, the groove metal influences added here help it really feel standout. The destructive vocals and harsh guitar riffing form a demolition team from the front and the controlled yet ferocious low end forms a rhythmic wrecking ball attacking from the rear.
“Shackles Like Talons” shares similar qualities with the last track and creates a great desolate atmosphere. This cut has some of the best bass work on the record.
The middle section of this record is perhaps the strongest on the entire album. The one two punch of “Dreamkiller” and “The Witch Beckons” shows what this band is truly capable of when everything falls into place. “Dreamkiller” is a feral face-melter with a great guitar hook, and ruthlessly aggressive drums. This track is what I look for in the brutal variety of deathcore. “The Witch Beckons” boasts a massive feature, Trivium’s Matthew K. Heafy. Perhaps the track to check out if you’re interested in this album. Heafy’s side project Ibaraki put out one of my favorite releases of last year, the experimental folk black metal record Rashomon. Heafy brings a great diverse and hostile flavor to the album. Throw one of the best arrangements on the record behind Heafy and Simonich and you have what is perhaps the peak of the album.
“Echelon” is another solid contribution to the record. One of the more aggressive and pulse-pounding vocal cuts packed out with some surprisingly catchy lyrics. Not a very unique or ground-breaking song but it certainly gets the job done. “Faces Without Names” totes shades of industrial and metalcore and it stands out nicely in the track list. “Malady”, the closing number is a solid track with a trippy, glitchy ending effect that sounds like the band is melting away. While these last three songs don’t reach the highs of the middle section of the record, they certainly held my attention and ended the album on a satisfying note.
Amongst the Low & Empty feels like an album that might fall through the fingers of metal fans. It holds some surprises and has some high points but it doesn’t have enough elements to completely separate itself from the complete inundation the rock and metal-sphere has been under in terms of deathcore and extreme metal. Music that pushes the boundaries of excess has been envogue for metal as far back as the mid-’80s, but especially over the last two decades it has increasingly become a trend or challenge. It feels like a lot of bands are always in competition to have the most deafening guttural, hardest hitting breakdown or quickest blast beat. Signs of the Swarm don’t quite aim for that achievement here but also don’t do much to distinguish themselves from the crowd, however their efforts do pay off overall. The record has some solid pacing, very well composed songs and suitable production that elevates the sound the band is trying to achieve. Is it the most mind blowing or memorable release of the summer? No, not really, but does it deserve some attention and recognition? I would argue yes, at least check out the top tracks and decide for yourself.
3.5/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Top tracks: “Dreamkiller”, “The Witch Beckons”, & “Between Fire & Stone”
Amongst the Low & Empty is out now through Century Media Records.