Album Review: WITHIN THE RUINS Halfway Human
Within the Ruins have long stood out from the usual slew of nondescript deathcore bands primarily through guitarist Joe Cocchi's tasteful blend of bottom-heavy, groove-oriented riffs with fluid, melodic leads overladen. The rhythm section, driven by drummer Kevin McGuill and whomever happened to be playing bass on any given album, have been instrumental in bringing Cocchi's intricate rhythms to life, but ultimately the band have lived and died on the strength of Cocchi's guitar compositions, frequently bordering on technical death metal before being lassoed back into trad metal territory with mellifluous hooks like a cross between Arch Enemy and Iron Maiden.
Beginning with 2013's Elite, Cocchi has been the sole guitarist in the band, with a larger emphasis on bass holding down the rhythm during his soaring fills. Halfway Human represents the first appearance of "new" bassist Paolo Galang, who has been touring with the band since 2015 and, in addition to his instrumental duties, is credited here with "clean vocals". That's right, folks, Within the Ruins, never quite the innovators, have joined the ranks of numerous other metal-/death core bands and adopted a clean singing model… to an extent, at least.
Again, though, Within the Ruins have never been particularly valued for their innovation, but rather their ability to craft earworm hooks and catchy riffs within the system of a preexisting, shopworn template. Those abilities have not waned simply because they've decided to skew those hooks closer to mainstream sensibilities, but nor is Halfway Human a runaway success, either.
The best songs remain those that cater to Cocchi's traditional strengths: big, groove-driven riffs interlaced with snappy, euphoric melodic leads. "Objective Reality" is awash in buoyant riffs – some almost straight out of old Cynic – while an almost industrial (think Fear Factory) backbeat holds it all down. The clean vocals on this track are restricted to the chorus and are one of the handfuls of instances on the album where the clean vocals add immeasurably to the song rather than merely kind of existing.
"Beautiful Agony" (premiered on Metal Injection earlier this year) makes effective use of Cocchi's 7-string with rubberband bottom end and djent-adjacent rhythm. It's also one of the more subtle integrations of Galang's clean vocals with Tim Goergen's harsher ones; whereas many tracks on the album have a pretty basic loud/soft dichotomy, "Beautiful Agony" at least makes an effort to vary Goergen's vocals between a hardcore bark and melodic death metal styled screaming, and the clean chorus also allows Goergen to double Galang's clean vox with his own harsher ones. And of course, who wouldn't welcome another installment of the Within Ruins instrumental "Ataxia" series?
Now the bad news: for those who read the initial description and started picturing Five Finger Death Punch, lord forbid the first song you hear from this album is "Death of the Rockstar". First of all the song title has nu-metal written all over it, but the chorus is all Warped Tour. This is basically as if Slipknot decided they could afford to sound a lot more like Static X if they really put their minds to it. No thanks.
"Incomplete Harmony" is a much better song but still flirts a little closely to boilerplate nu-metal, and as such will likely be one of the more skipped tracks on the album. It doesn't quite deserve that degree of slight, but frankly there are better things to be gotten to here: the aforementioned A-list songs, as well as other album highlights like "Shape-Shifter", the crushing, straight deathcore of "Bittersweet" and almost Gojira-like "Ivory Tower". Within the Ruins are on the right track with this minor deviation in style, with the only problem being that it's just that: too minor a deviation in style. The songs that deviate the most from their tried-and-true format are the ones that work the least, yet the ones that update their tech-melodic deathcore style with clean choruses – otherwise declining to get too fancy – see the band pulling things off nicely. In the end, Halfway Human will likely turn out to be a transitional album, with later efforts hopefully displaying a more nuanced, experienced melding of styles.