Beartooth – Below
Released: June 25, 2021
Caleb Shomo // Instrumentals, Producer, Mixer and Masterer
Oh hey, it’s me, your resident Beartooth fanatic Browny back again for another round of reviewing Tooth’s latest album and you better believe I’m keen as fuck to let you know what to expect on Friday when Below is finally unleashed upon the world (spoiler alert, it’s goooooooood!) Like the previous releases, Caleb Shomo was front and centre, recording all the instrumentals, singing/screaming, producing and mixing the album but for the first time he was in charge of the mastering and you can tell just how much thought went into perfecting each song. It’s like he sat down with each and every one, tweaking it until he got it right. The end result is one of the best records the band has in their back catalogue, so with that out the way, let’s jump into it…
This new era of Beartooth kicks off with the title track ‘Below‘ which opens up with distorted guitars before Caleb’s rusty vocals chime in with ‘I feel the rage something’s starting to grow / six hundred sixty six feet in my hell below’ before an all-in instrumental assault on your ears smacks you in the face and causing your head to do this thing where it bounces ferociously front to back. The riffs are the main feature on this track (and album in general) so buckle up for what is going to be a game-changing sound for Beartooth. However, if you’re still wanting to hear something similar from the band’s earlier work, by the time the chorus rolls around, regular fans will feel at home with Caleb’s melodic performance which he’s really perfected over the years. There’s a chuggy as fuck breakdown too so you’re really getting the best of what this band has to offer all in one fantastic opening song. ‘Devastation‘ follows and this is straight up non-stop rock from start to finish. My initial reaction to this single still holds up to this day: The song kicks off with a heavy start that takes us up to a cleanly sung chorus that has that iconic Beartooth sound to it. But, that’s not the best part, the drums in this song are next fucking level and if you’ve been craving a new breakdown from the band, well, you better get lubed up because this one slides through your ears with ease, precision and will instantly have you bashing your head against the nearest wall in no time.
‘The Past Is Dead‘ brings back the infamous ‘oh-oh-woah-ohs’ for a fun melodic rock anthem about being stuck in the past, unable to move on from past trauma. As Caleb sings ‘Even though I’m trying my best doing all I can / As you might have guessed / I don’t know how to pretend / I can’t accept that the past is dead’ your attention is held and you can’t help but sing along at the top of your lungs… Then the sexy chuggy breakdown kicks in and all inhibitions are thrown out the window! This is the perfect example of the band’s nine year sound progression, touching on older elements in the chorus combined with their new hard rock/metal sounding direction. This single also inspired the #RiffOnAnythingChallenge and if you haven’t taken part in that yet, uppercut yourself! ‘Fed Up‘ is next and if you’re a drum fanatic, you’re gonna be punching the air in front of you without a worry in the world. This single is addictively fun and will no doubt become the band’s new circle-pit starter at their future shows. For the superfans, I’d call this track the sibling of ‘Rock Is Dead‘ from 2016’s Aggressive, only faster, fuller and favourably more precise than that initial release.
To all the naysayers who reckon the band lost their heaviness over the years, boy you’re in for a treat when you finally hit play on ‘Dominate‘. From the second the screams send chills up your spine, there are a few elements that are going to catch you off guard throughout – firstly the guitar tones are just so ear-piercingly inviting, secondly, there are blast beats after the chorus that hit you right in the chest when you’re least expecting it (but don’t worry, they come back for a second helping) and thirdly, this is without a doubt the HARDEST song Beartooth have released since their Sick EP/Disgusting era. The best way I can describe this one is it’s just so filthy as fuck. If you’ve doubted Caleb’s potential as a metal/metalcore frontman, prepare to eat your words. Fun Fact: The first time you’ll ever hear him scream the word “Fuck” (on any album/EP) happens on this belter!!
By the time ‘No Return‘ plays, you must be ready for a breather and you’re in luck because the start of this one is all about the cleans! Learn these lyrics, because you’re going to be singing them back at the top of your lungs every time you hear this song ‘Maybe it gets harder every day I sit still / I can’t seem to get a grip on the world / and saying that I’m hurting’s getting old I can tell / and I’m starting to feel concerned / there’s no return’. In saying that, if you’re all about the moshing and breakdowns, then you’re looked after as well with a nice little section just for you to lose your shit during.
‘Phantom Pain‘ picks the tempo back up again (with some ‘Greatness of Death’ vibes throughout) and the best way of explaining the sound of this one is – it’s like the moment the band goes from metalcore to metal – there are elements of both genres throughout and the instrumentals ebb and flow from one to the other (without losing any quality in the process). The screams are fulfilling, the cleans are full of emotion BUT the best part of this song comes right at the end when you think it’s all said and done… The drums kick off a slow breakdown that’s going to have you all wide-eyed screaming “HOLLLLLY SHITTTTTTT” when you first hear it. It is totally unexpected, but goddamn it really puts the cherry on top of another awe-inspiring return-to-heavy for the boys. ‘Skin‘ is a body image anthem and Caleb’s vulnerable side is once again on show, this time for a subject that he hasn’t addressed since the Attack Attack! days (if you know, you know). The opening lines ‘I’ve been sleeping on the floor of my closet again / wishing hopelessness was something I might beat in the end / I’ve been burying it down in my system again / I’m so uncomfortable’ paint the picture of someone who is defeated and as the song progresses, the reasoning behind that has been their constant battle against people who have been hellbent on criticising their appearance and despite others being able to move on from the negative thoughts, they’re stuck in their own head and feel alone in their suffering. The juxtaposition with upbeat instrumentals and devastatingly haunting lyrics really make the impact of this track hit harder. If at first you’re not sold on the sound, big it a couple more spins and listen to what’s being sung to you.
‘Hell of It‘ is just a big ol fast and furious hard rock song that’s without a doubt going to get some older metal/rock fans into this band. When you get to the all-in sing-a-long chorus, you’ll understand… it has a very AC/DC, KISS, Guns ‘N Roses feel to it and I can foresee Beartooth scoring a support slot for one of the old school greats because of this song alone! ‘I Won’t Give It Up‘ takes me back to the Disgusting era (in particular ‘Keep Your American Dream‘) with that back and forth between melodic cleans and yells, but it’s most certainly an encouragement song (rather than despair) about pushing forward instead of falling back on old habits. ‘The Answer‘ is a haunting song that’s like a hard rock ballad with even harder-hitting lyrics. That signature Caleb Shomo lyrical content of struggling with what you’re going through is back and on display for others to feel/relate/turn to when you’re in the same boat. Hearing the delivery in the chorus of ‘Pulling away from my emotions now / feeling a change in my devotion now / I feel like I’m crumbling under the pressure / just lie to me say you have the answer’ may not seem like much when you’re reading it, but when you’re hearing his singing (especially with the final repeating chorus as the song fades out) you feel every single word he’s yelling at you. It’s raw, emotional and uniquely Beartooth. Plus, that guitar tone in the breakdown is unlike anything I’ve heard the band do before and I fucking dig it immensely.
‘The Last Riff‘ is 100% new territory for Beartooth – they’ve released an instrumental album closer that features hysteria-inducing synth alongside the ebb and flowing guitars and drums that complement each other in a horrifying way. It’s kind of like they’ve taken someone’s downward spiral into depression and given it a theme song. In the past (and you can pick me up on this) I’ve expressed my lack of appreciation for instrumental bands/songs because I connect better with both music and lyrics that tell a story – but, this is unlike anything I’ve truly felt in the past. It’s possibly because I’ve been in the same kind of depths as Caleb with my own personal battles against depression and anxiety and after listening to this album closing track over and over again while writing this review, I kept getting flashbacks of those moments, the pain and frustration with not being able to “just switch it all off” and reflected on how far I’ve come from the worst years of my life, to now, where I’ve kinda/sorta got a handle on my mental health. At first, I thought it was an easy way out for the band to release a song without a story, but this invites the listener to share their own, in their head, with a soundtrack that’s both beautiful and terrifying at the same time. Music. What a trip am I right?
And that brings us to the end of Beartooth‘s new opus Below. It’s safe to say it sounds like Caleb is no longer trying to chase the metalcore sound that made Tooth a household name, instead, he’s venturing into heavy metal/hard rock territory, showcasing a talent that’s just dying to be heard by a vast array of heavy music fans who are yet to discover them. It seriously won’t be long before these guys are playing with the big boys of metal and as a long term fan, I’m so bloody proud!
In the past, we’ve witnessed Caleb being brutally honest about his mental health battles via his music/lyrics. Over the past nine years, he’s gone from expressing his deepest and darkest struggles on releases like Sick and Disgusting, trying to avoid his issues on Aggressive, all the way through to coming to terms with his Disease on the 2018 album of the same name. Now it sounds like he’s confronting his demons head-on with Below, accepting this is his life, and doing his best to not succumb to the pain and despair he experienced in those early years. In doing so, he’s offering hope for the legion of fans who have turned to his music as an escape from their own struggles and reminding us/them that despite the bad days, there’s always a brighter future worth fighting for.
Beartooth – Below tracklisting
3. The Past is Dead
4. Fed Up
6. No Return
7. Phantom Pain
9. Hell of It
10. I Won’t Give Up
11. The Answer
12. The Last Riff