My initial impressions of portrayal of guilt, mostly based off their self-titled EP, were that the band bore compelling similarities to You Fail Me-era Converge. Holistically, both releases invoke the sense of urgency in the aftermath of trauma (something arguably still present in Let Pain Be Your Guide); more specifically, the EPs “The One” and “Mourning Ahead” bear a motif greatly resembling one found on You Fail Me’s “Drop Out”, effectively a 4-note sequence making use of a harmonic minor scale’s last three notes. I mention this detail because I particularly enjoy the motif’s effect — it conveys suspense, twisted elegance. But it also serves as a starting point for a study in contrast — Let Pain Be Your Guide distances itself from softer tendencies and takes a step away from the EP and its possible influences (e.g. hints of old school skramz, early 2000s Converge). Any further analysis of the album, I have found, is less straightforward.
Interpretation A, on efficacy: Let Pain Be Your Guide and its blackened crust represents both simplicity and density. It is simple in that the album principally draws from a common well of bleakness, one that many other works exploit with varying degrees of success. This bleakness is qualitatively identical whenever it shows up, and is recognized as such (unconsciously or not) by the listener. The album relies on a familiar paradigm, though employs it successfully, and simply amplifies the usual amounts of hopelessness and disgust. The sludgy abrasiveness and retching of “Your War”; the wrenching screams, subterranean growls, and searing riffs — all contribute to the magnitude of bleakness, resulting in a dense black cloud. Efficacy is the key here — the listener is choked, feels a rush of fear, can’t (and shouldn’t) pause to think in this asphyxiated state.
Interpretation B, on nuance: This interpretation says that there should be a higher burden on the listener to discover qualitative nuances in the emotions of Let Pain Be Your Guide; it acknowledges that they are not easily perceived in the initial listens. It is possible to conceive of bleakness as varying only in magnitude, but doing so necessarily narrows one’s ability to appreciate details — can emotions really come together and end up only forming some generic version of bleakness? Is it appropriate to consider this album in terms of genre tropes? Just to throw one example, groove is not typically associated with despair, and yet Let Pain Be Your Guide has surprising amounts of the former. In fact, that realization alone is enough to place a new spin: the subtle inclusion of fun rhythms (credit is due to the nasty basslines) might evoke grim humour, twisted acceptance about Hell’s proximity (“A Burden” goes as far as to say “I’ve searched for reason, but I’ve chosen to pay”). Indeed, a more charitable interpretation of the blunt references to suffering and masochism leaves room for irony, self-awareness, to exist in the album — “Life Holds Nothing” probably isn’t a simple lament, “Death Is Gentle” isn’t necessarily an earnest embrace of death.
To take away one conclusion from Let Pain Be Your Guide: it is devilishly evasive. Apart from its precise, blistering performances (noteworthy is the pummelling, yet amazingly intricate drumming), there’s not much actually apparent about it. Taken at face value, its doom and gloom may come across as excessive or overly theatrical, but I’m not convinced that melodrama is what forms the core of this album. Instead, I’m envisioning a circus in which various embodiments of negativity and agony are cruelly exhibited for an audience’s pleasure. Some of the participants are being mocked. But whom, exactly, I can’t say — the performers for lacking composure? The audience for relishing in the suffering? The ringleader for being complicit? In the meantime, portrayal of guilt continue to pull the strings.
Let Pain Be Your Guide will be out on November 16 and is available for pre-order on the band’s Bandcamp page.