Within The Ruins | Halfway Human Review

Halfway Human is the fifth record from Within The Ruins, released March 3rd. For those not familiar, Within the Ruins are a Massachusetts deathcore band whose sound is highlighted by effects-laden, speedy riffs and furious lead guitar work that’s unlike most of their deathcore peers. Think headier, more ethereal-sounding acts like Veil of Maya or Born of Osiris for a comparison as opposed to deathcore figureheads like Thy Art Is Murder and Whitechapel. I can remember the first time I heard a Within The Ruins track (the title track off 2010’s Invade). I was blown away, and I couldn’t get enough. At that time, no other band from the deathcore scene sounded like they did. Their songs were technical enough and produced so well that I couldn’t stop listening until I could wrap my head around the complex song structures they presented.

With each subsequent release, Within The Ruins continued to step their game up with the inclusion of heavier low-string riffs, inventive lead and solo work and interesting new guitar effects. I was also personally fond of the video game soundtrack medley found on 2014’s Phenomena. And now we have Halfway Human, a record that almost seems to sit in the shadows of the works which came before it. It seems the only attempt to reinvent the wheel here is the introduction of some clean singing from new bassist Paolo Galang. And while they’re not cheesy or overdone, they don’t really add much to set this record apart from the rest of the band’s catalog.

First single “Death of a Rockstar” set a good blueprint for the rest of the album’s tracks, with a fairly standard song structure broken up with a by-the-books Within The Ruins solo. I also found the lyrical mimicking of nursery rhyme “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star” a less interesting and more corny choice for setting up the song’s chorus. Nevertheless, the song, like the rest of the album’s 11 tracks, are competently written in their own right.

I’ve always found the best Within The Ruins tracks to be those led with low string heavy riffs. Fitting the bill from Halfway Human are “Incomplete Harmony” and “Bittersweet,” the latter track immediately standing out to me on first listen. There’s enough different ideas going on here, from the low-end scales at the song’s start to the triplet-driven middle section which drive the song to a sweet “breakdown-solo-acoustic outro” construction.

Since everyone seems to want to discuss clean vocals nowadays, let’s do just that. What we have here isn’t nearly the drastic shift seen in bands like Trivium or Suicide Silence where the vocal style has completely shifted. Instead, we have clean vocals as almost an added layer to each song that they’re featured on, whether they layer with screamer Tim Goergen’s guttural vocals on “Death of a Rockstar” or lead their own sections on tracks “Absolution” and “Threadstone.”This move is to be commended, but not praised. It certainly adds to the band’s already impressive songwriting prowess, but it doesn’t innovate in any significant way. If I had to pick a favorite track which utilizes cleans, it would be “Objective Reality.” I feel like it best balances softer vocals and elements such as the string instrument intro with the in-your-face breakdown riff which hit around the minute and a half mark.

Goergen also earns kudos on Halfway Human for the attempts at variations on his screams and the additional “noises” that can be heard throughout the record (There’s a BLEGH somewhere on this record, and it’s glorious as always). I also love when a band intros their solos by yelling, “GUI-TAR!,” so credit goes where credit is due here for making me laugh.

Overall, the music here is good, I just don’t see it being terribly memorable. This is a shame because I find the Within The Ruins collective to be good songwriters who balance technicality and heavy sensibility well. But if you handed someone a mix CD of songs from the band’s last four LP’s, they probably wouldn’t be able to tell you if this was a “greatest hits” compilation or a front-to-back record. And if they were to discern that fact, it would be solely on the inclusion of clean vocals on this record, which are a new addition for the band but certainly aren’t a novelty worthy of high praise here.

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