One of the most interesting things about 2015 as a year of metal is that many of the best albums have integrated a great deal of emotion and atmosphere in some way or another. From WRVTH’s self-titled techdeath landmark to Hope Drone’s post-rock/atmospheric black metal masterpiece, there’s been a huge step forward this year. It’s the first year of releases that’ve been entirely written post-Sunbather (because, like it or not, that album has changed the way many bands think about atmospheric parts of metal), and so it’s no surprise to see artists taking this level of atmosphere and emotionality into their music.
Unfortunately, this element isn’t the easiest tool to wield, and it’s something that’s used improperly just as often as it’s used in the right way. Improper usage of it can cripple a band and leave their songs feeling empty and bland, devoid of life and feeling instead of overflowing with it. This is, quite unhappily, the case with the The Color Clear, the new album from Minnesotan metalcore outfit Reflections, who strike again and again for the same sort of feeling as Sunbather but seem to miss nine times out of ten.
There’s a weird dichotomy that permeates the entirety of the album’s runtime: the need for the band to simultaneously feel lofty, spacey, and emotional, but also to hit hard in a typical metalcore style. If Structures spent the entirety of Divided By going back and forth between Fallujah-esque ambient sections and the typical fare of that release, the result would be almost entirely what The Color Clear is. It’s a problem that makes this album almost impossible to enjoy in either capacity, and it’s this that kills the album more than anything else. When the group starts to return to the polyrhythmic chugs of their previous releases, it feels weaker than it has in the past, as they’ve tried to inject some hints of post-ish atmosphere into these parts, and when they start to veer into the lighter territory, they inevitably feel the need to break back into their typical mode and ruin any sort of emotional vibe they had going. It doesn’t help that this album is carried by what has to be, undoubtedly, one of the weakest vocal performances of their career. The phrasing is standard, and the vocals themselves sound just slightly below average: the issue is with the lyrics. Every line feels saturated and cheesy to the point of almost being laughable; it’s the musical equivalent of watching someone at a community theater over-act a Shakespearean monologue to the point of cringeworthiness.
Reflection’s history of questionable production also returns here to plague them once again. Emphasizing the cleaner, reverbed-out leads and relegating vocals to the back of the mix, the whole album feels weak, like any life and warmth has been sucked out. It seems to be an intentional choice, but it just doesn’t work at all for the music.
Ultimately, The Color Clear shows a band in the midst of a severe identity crisis. On tracks like “Limbo”, where they spend more time falling back into their typical pattern of breakdowns and midtempo chugging, the production that’s clearly designed to bolster the atmospheric parts of the record take the punch out of the guitars, and when they try to enter more emotional territory as a band, the pull to come back to off-time metalcore breakdowns seems to be too strong for the band to resist. It’s unfortunate that this album came out this way, but, if anything, it can serve as a good example for how not to integrate atmospheric elements into your music.