“IT FEELS LIKE HELL.”
Nothing describes Slow Decay, the tenth studio offering from core titans The Acacia Strain, better than its own opening decree. After the surprise Christmas release of critically acclaimed It Comes in Waves, the band hinted there was more to come. Little did we know they’d follow their best album in a decade – which found the veterans experimenting with full on death and doom in an ominous, galactic post-metal universe – with an immaculate, jaw-shattering return to form.
The album could not be more aptly titled. Vocalist Vincent Bennett puts it plainly: “The whole concept is reality breaking down around us… and we’re now witnessing our collective descent into madness.” Slow Decay‘s release cycle has been purposely unconventional to fit this very narrative. Ten of its twelve songs were released as two-track 7” singles every month since February, with each one sporting a single letter moniker spelling out the word DECAY. This trickling of content was extremely effective at building the slow burn they hoped to accomplish. Each single felt like a piece of a monolithic puzzle, filling listeners with equal parts dread and anticipation at witnessing the final pieces slotted into place.
Let me be clear – I am not using words like ‘titans’ or ‘monolithic’ lightly here. Slow Decay, in its final, completed form, is an Exodian construct steeped in ennui, birthed in nihilistic rite to obliterate hope and lay bare humanity’s fears and failures. It is a massive, lumbering, unstoppable force of doom-soaked beatdown the likes of which could only have been concocted by twenty-year veterans in the year 2020. It is the soundtrack to the state of our world by current perceptions: oppressive, anxiety-ridden, and hopeless to the point of total despair.
And they’re not alone. True to the ethos of using their platform to spotlight lesser known artists in the scene, The Acacia Strain booked four vocal features from both beloved up-and-comers and underground stalwarts alike: Aaron Heard of Jesus Piece and Nothing, Jess Nyx of Mortality Rate, Zach Hatfield of Left Behind, and Courtney LaPlante of Spiritbox and iwrestledabearonce. Each guest feels expertly suited for the tracks they feature on, with TAS cheekily weaving a single thread from their respective sounds into the track to make them feel at home. “The Lucid Dream” and “One Thousand Painful Stings” in particular seem like perfect fits, with the former being carried by Nyx’s raw energy while the latter fades into a haunting melody delivered by LaPlante’s sultry, eerie alto.
The real standouts, however, are drummer Kevin Boutot’s performance and Bennett’s trademark gritty cynicism. Boutot’s kit for this record sounds like it’s just a hi-hat and four china cymbals, creating a punishing sonic experience where there is no respite from his precision downtempo pummeling. While the music itself may be simple by most standards, Boutot’s expert delivery acts as bellows to the massive molten core of the clambering behemoth that is Slow Decay. Meanwhile, Vincent Bennett remains a vocalist often imitated but never duplicated in his prolific twenty year career. A pioneer in brutality from the very coalescence of modern metalcore, he possesses a voice of ground gravel so deftly wielded it seems but a natural extension of the man himself. Lyrically, Bennett has outdone himself – each anthem of despair offers endlessly quotable (dare I say tattooable?) flourishes of pure nihilism and spiritual sorrow. “Solace and Serenity” and “Chhinnamasta” are treats in this department. He has perfected the mosh call as poetry, and for that, he is an icon.
Slow Decay is everything it was intended to be. From start to finish, the record hammers away at you with palpable anguish. It is the act of putting your soul in a hydraulic press. It will make you feel colossal, and hollow, and at home with the existential dread of the reality we all face. It will also force you to kick holes in the floor, so… careful out there.
Slow Decay releases July 24 via Rise Records.