The echoes of 2019 are going to be ringing out for a while now, so I wouldn’t be too surprised if release from the previous year keep cropping up here and there. Especially if they were released in the final few weeks of the year and especially if they represented a fresh new direction for a band or more of a commitment at a hinted at direction. The latter is the case with The Acacia Strain‘s It Comes in Waves; while they were one of the spearheads of the metalcore/deathcore movement of the mid-00’s, certain tracks/EPs within albums released this decade (like 2014’s monolithic “Observer“) have been hinting at a more doom influenced preoccupation for the band. It Comes in Waves is that preoccupation fleshed out and given vent as its own release. Whether this represents the only direction for the band, or whether the next release will see them return to their “core” sound (pun intended), is unclear but for now one thing is certain: The Acacia Strain are more than “just” a metalcore band.

At the basis of It Comes in Waves lies a tone and approach which shouldn’t be too surprising for fans of the band; The Acacia Strain have always been known to flirt with the bottom range of the scale. However, on this release, the chords and sounds are much more cavernous, freely embracing the doom/sludge tropes this album is based on. Check out “Them” for example and its truly massive opening notes. Pay attention, however, to how the main riff which starts after the short intro ends simply yells “The Acacia Strain”; this EP is not a “clean” break. The DNA of the band is definitely there, communicating with and channeling the new type of sound in its own way but hinting much of the same ideas. The result is refreshing; on one hand, the EP charts new territory for the band but remains anchored to its origins and its sound. In other places, the guitars strum out classic doom metal interludes, like on the following and closing “Names”; this serves to set the cosmic theme of the album and give it that horror tinged edge it attempts to channel with its name, cover art, and track names.

Add in a few pick sweeps a la Morbid Angel (or Gojira, if you must) scattered throughout the album and you have the extent of the guitars’ “tethered exploration” on the album, walking the lines of what can be done with the band’s familiar sound. The vocals on “Them”, and elsewhere on the album, are also a great example of the “tethered exploration” that It Comes in Waves sets out to accomplish. On one hand, they’ve had plenty of echo and depth added to them, to fit this new accentuated, deep, and monolithic sound. On the other, effects like gang vocals, guttural squeals, and the other hardcore influenced trappings of the vocals have been maintained. The result is, once again, something familiar and different at the same time. There’s enough here to easily and immediately recognize and categorize the music as The Acacia Strain but also plenty that expands what that definition means.

And therein perhaps lies the main weakness of the album: it exists in heavy relations with The Acacia Strain. That is, it is only new and exciting in the context of their history. As a piece of music of its own it’s certainly well written and performed. But it doesn’t really do anything new or exceptional with the doom/sludge formula; it sticks pretty close to the tropes of both genres and can thus get a bit repetitive and paint by numbers. It’s only when you configure it in regards to how much of a cool departure it is for the band that it gains that extra sheen of interest and punch. But hey, this is Heavy Blog; we’re the champions of the importance of context and history in understanding and appreciating an album. It Comes in Waves is no exception. The album should be understood in the context of the band’s history and, in that context, it’s a super interesting, heavy, and engaging album.

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It Comes in Waves was released on December 26th, 2019, via Closed Casket Activities. You can head on over to the Bandcamp link above to purchase it.

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