Signs of the Swarm - Vital Deprivation (Cover Artwork)

Signs of the Swarm

Vital Deprivation (2019)

Unique Leader Records

2019 was, against all odds, something of a renaissance year for the much-maligned genre of deathcore. The main issue with deathcore is that it became over-saturated and then morphed into a sort of meme version of itself with the genre boundaries becoming so narrow that people either lost interest or the bands became dangerously interchangeable. But as I say, 2019 saw a resurgence, primarily down to some of the leading lights of the scene diversifying their sound and successfully gaining a bit of credibility back as a result. Whitechapel introduced clean vocals and a real craft to their songwriting that is not typically associated with the scene, Shadow of Intent brought forth heavy symphonic influences that drew in some of the ‘Euro’ crowd amongst others and Thy Art is Murder...well actually they kind of just made a party deathcore album, but people loved that, too.

What seems odd though, is that Signs of the Swarm appear to have garnered somewhat less press and praise. And I’m going to say it outright; this is my favourite deathcore record of 2019. I’m acutely conscious of the fact that it’s my job to articulate why that is in the next few hundred words and that’s not necessarily the easiest task, but here we go. Let’s address a major sticking point for some folks; a lot of people may be put off by the vocal. David Simonich, who only joined the band in 2018, has some of the most unintelligible death growls going. His style does vary, but there are moments when it is literally nothing more than a gurgling death rattle. I know that sounds mad and will send people running for the hills, but if you’re familiar with death growls and the various styles thereof, then you may be less surprised to hear that when set against the backdrop of the band’s musical canvas, it doesn’t feel as absurd as it sounds like it should on paper. How it does feel is gnarly, obnoxious and revolting...which is precisely the aim. And for the record, when Simonich goes for one of his (many) more discernible vocal styles, then it becomes even more clear that there’s no shortage of ability there.

Musically speaking, Vital Deprivation is a very engaging and dynamic listen as far as deathcore goes, as well. There are myriad tempo changes, big, fat, Slam-style drops and breakdowns, atmospheric guitar intros and fills, and drum patterns and fills that defy belief. The other thing that makes this record feel more alive than a vast majority of its peers, is the constantly-shifting nature of it. Where some bands are happy to sit in their own pocket or groove, Signs of the Swarm seem far keener to keep moving forward. It’s something that they’ve taken from the death end of the spectrum (as opposed to the ‘core’) and it serves the band and the record very well indeed. It’s extremely difficult (especially in this field) for a band to feel catchy and hooky whilst also keeping the listener guessing throughout and I have to say that I think that’s something that Vital Deprivation succeeds in doing.

A lot of people will think this record is totally absurd. That’s fine. I’m used to it now and I’m guessing that Signs of the Swarm are as well, but if you’re able to hang with the vocal style and the erratic musical nature along with the occasionally outlandish heaviness, then there is a lot going on here. “Undying Fidelity” for example, is just over 3 minutes’ worth of instrumental metal - eschewing deathcore convention for passages of gothic melody and complex drum patterns. “Malformed Dissonance” utilises an underlying arpeggio that bleeds into the following track “Lost Within Reflection” and these are just some of the innovations on display in what could, at first listen, just be taken for a wild, savagely heavy deathcore album.

If it’s a style you feel comfortable with, I recommend spending some time with this record. It gives a whole lot more than its genre historically has been able to. It feels good to be excited by a deathcore record again.