There aren’t many better illustrations of how interconnected the UK tech-metal scene is than a glance at Heart of a Coward’s family tree. Before their inception, drummer Christopher Mansbridge was part of djent pioneers Fellsilent, whose demise also brought Tesseract and Monuments to life as full bands rather than side-projects. Original guitarist and vocalist Timfy James and Ben Marvin left prior to the release of their 2012 debut album, Hope and Hindrance, and went on to form (and subsequently leave) Hacktivist. Ben’s replacement, Jamie Graham, joined from modern thrashers Sylosis, whose driving force Josh Middleon is now in Architects. Finally, with Jamie stepping away from the microphone in 2017, his replacement Kaan Tasan joined from scene darlings No Consequence. Do try to keep up at the back. There will be a test.
Naturally, it is this final change that fans will be most exercised by, given that fourth album, The Disconnect, will be their first opportunity (lead singles and live shows aside) to hear what Kaan brings to the party. Over the course of Jamie’s tenure with the band, and especially the cycle for third album Deliverance, Heart of a Coward honed themselves into a potent and beefy riff machine, with Jamie becoming a particularly formidable onstage presence. His decision to leave sent a wave of dismay through the band’s fanbase, leaving Kaan with some big shoes to fill, and high expectations to match.
Anyone already familiar with his work with No Consequence will be aware that there are key differences in Kaan’s approach which meant there was always going to be a recognisable change in the band’s overall sound. His natural vocal register sits higher on the scale than Jamie’s, and whilst he has done a good job of replicating Jamie’s bassier roar when performing the old material live, The Disconnect is written closer to his comfort zone. What’s more, whilst his bellows might not quite match the authoritative intensity of Jamie’s, his pitched screams and outright clean singing are considerably more accomplished than his predecessors experiments during the quieter moments of Deliverance. In the context of The Disconnect material, this is a definite plus.
It’s perfectly natural for a band writing their fourth album to start to mellow a little, and The Disconnect is unquestionably their least heavy, most melodic material to date. But have no fear – Heart of a Coward are not on the verge of breaking out the acoustic guitars and knitwear any time soon. A less heavy Heart of a Coward still has plenty of potential circle pit action and a full battalion of thick and brawny riffs. The tracklisting does not feature an all out, bludgeoning assault in the vein of “Deadweight” or “Hollow”, which may be a little disappointing on first listen. However, after a few repeat spins, it becomes clear that the slight tempering of outright naked aggression has been accompanied by a pronounced improvement in the overall quality of the songwriting. Whilst both Deliverance and Severance included enough great tracks between them for Heart of a Coward to compile a potent live set list, those albums also contained their share of more forgettable tracks. The Disconnect is most certainly a more well-constructed and consistent long-form listening experience.
Heart of a Coward have always had a larger metalcore component to their sound than their more progressive, djenty contemporaries, and coupling this more melodic approach, particularly in the choruses, with choppy, chuggy riffs and hardcore tempos leaves them sounding like the halfway point on a spectrum with Monuments at one end, and Employed To Serve at the other. The album broadly breaks down into groovy, bouncy tracks like opener “Drown In Ruin” and “Culture of Lies” and uptempo two-step stompers like “Ritual”. “Return To Dust” is the really big departure from the template, and it’s gentle ambience really would not have sounded out of place on the last No Consequence album. It segues, however, into the more abrasive “Suffocate”, which seems to include a little callback to its preceding track in a slightly nod to the progressive.
If there is one slightly confusing fly in the ointment, it’s is that the band have chosen to end a couple of the tracks on the album with rather abrupt and brutal fade-outs, including album closer “Isolation”, meaning that the album concludes with more of a whimper than a bang. But, just as a slightly cheesy final scene may slightly taint a film, it doesn’t completely negate the enjoyment of the journey to that point. And there’s certainly much to enjoy on The Disconnect.
So, yes, Heart of a Coward have changed. However, it does seem that the changes have been driven at least as much by how the band as a whole have matured over the four years since they were writing the Deliverance material than by the change. It’s entirely plausible that, had they tried to write Deliverance Part 2 with Kaan, it wouldn’t have been as successful – but that may equally have been the case had they written The Disconnect with Jamie still in place. The shift in approach, coupled with the complimentary recruitment of an accomplished vocalist in his own right, has delivered the best of both worlds. Fans still pining for Jamie can still see the band at their imposing best on stage (and in a blind test in that context, I’m sure most people would struggle to notice the difference between the two vocalists) and the band are in the best possible shape to move forward with this next chapter of their career.
The Disconnect is available on Nuclear Blast from 7 June 2019