Written by Kep
I, Pariah – Dystopian Visions
Deathcore from Arizona, USA
Releasing May 21st, 2021
Ah, deathcore. It’s kind of the punching bag of the metal world, isn’t it? I’d argue that no extreme metal subgenre gets as much hate and stereotyping. You know the tropes: all the downtuned belligerence of death metal without the compositional variety or technical badassery, plus an overabundance of breakdowns, slam rhythms, and gauged ears.
Arizona-based outfit I, Pariah’s new record Dystopian Visions, their full-length debut, isn’t quite going to blow minds by turning every deathcore stereotype on its head, but it sure does break the mold of generic, uninspired compositions in a big way. It’s an impressive display of what the style can be when handled by capable, intelligent musicians with an ear for varied, engaging songwriting.
“Criminal”, the first of eight tracks, comes out of the gates swinging, introducing the minor third that acts as one of the song’s major motifs in solo guitar before a drum fill drops us headlong into pounding, double-bass driven ferocity. It’s not long before you notice that I, Pariah places a real emphasis on laying in extra melodic material, as synths enter and become part of the band’s backbone. The synth-heavy passage at 1:30 (it’s repeated later, too) reminded me of The Discovery-era Born of Osiris (definitely a good thing!), and then even more so when the chorus hit for the second time with those synths added, adding a dynamic extra layer.
I always appreciate when the second song on an album immediately feels different from the first because it showcases songwriting variety, and “Oblivion” fits the bill here. After the BoO-esque, synthy, headlong feeling of the opener, this one feels a bit more like classic deathcore to start, with a downright bouncy rhythmic riff. The lyrics prominently feature the album’s main theme: the downfall of humanity and the crumbling world it’s created. “Let it all fucking burn!” introduces a hell of a mosh passage, before we hear this timely gem: “Rabid pundits foaming at the mouth / Pushing disease-ridden fingers / Into open infected wounds”. The band’s ear for extra melodic layers reappears a bit over halfway through the song, with a guitar solo that soars over the roared chorus.
“Vulture Mine”, one of the album’s singles, is track 5, kicking off the album’s second half, and it’s a featured single for a good reason: this song rips. It’s fast, it’s mean, the lyrics hit hard, and it’s got an absolutely killer chorus with a featured melodic line that will get stuck in your head. The opening is a memorable one, heavy as hell and featuring Gojira-style pick scrapes. “The cross and the lamb / Serve to persecute and condemn” in the chorus is a line that will stick with you, as is “This is my home / But this is not who I am”, which is the lyrical focus of the song’s breakdown-centric coda.
The title track “Dystopian Visions” is the closer, and it might just be the finest example of songwriting on the record. After a full minute of dark, building guitars, the main riff arrives full of vehemence; it’s a good one, as is the decision to allow the second half of the verse to breathe a bit with a quieter, eerie passage. The chorus features Black Crown Initiate’s Andy Thomas on additional vocals, and he delivers one of the most aggressive vocal performances I’ve ever heard from him. (Bands, take note: if you feature Andy Thomas on your album, I will listen to it, no questions asked. If you get him to both sing and play guitar, I will buy the album, again no questions asked.) After a bridge of early Whitechapel-esque fast-paced lyrics, the second chorus features another majestic solo guitar line layered over top. The song then features some flying, circular guitar licks behind moshy stomps as it wraps up; they’re reminiscent of the synthwork that caught my ear way back in “Criminal”.
One of my favorite elements of Dystopian Visions is the interludes. Of the eight tracks, two are instrumentals of approximately two minutes in length each, and both are wonderful. “Shrine” is the first of these, and it’s track four, coming immediately after an absolute pummeler of a song (“Denier”) finishes out the album’s opening stretch. It’s an acoustic number, full of life and energy and bits of classical guitar flair, and it’s a much-appreciate palate cleanser. “Crown of Creation” precedes the title track, and sits on the other end of the interlude spectrum: it’s a full band number driven by a heavy midtempo groove, which eventually slows a downtempo slam. Again, it’s a well-placed change of pace and much appreciated.
As you might expect, the master is decently tight, but not so much that it’s troubling to my ears. The balance between Josh Musick’s clean, vigorous drums and the guitars (Garrin Beaudoin and Leo McNichol) is a good one, and Adam Curry’s bass performance is solid, mixed well to add a present bottom end that isn’t overbearing. Steve Poff delivers an above average deathcore vocal performance: his throaty roar is massive and intimidating, and his low growls gurgle brutally. Beaudoin contributes to the vocals in some way as well, though I’m not 100% sure which effect is his; maybe it’s the semicleans on “New Dawn”?
I want to especially praise the album’s pacing. Eight tracks, ~33 minutes, with two great interludes and six well-written main songs makes for an extremely digestible listen; I wasn’t bored at any point, nor did I feel like I needed a break after the last track finished. It’s a pacing masterclass that other deathcore bands should take notes on.
I definitely recommend giving I, Pariah’s new record a spin this Friday. Is Dystopian Visions going to ascend into the elite company of deathcore all-timers like Shadow of Intent’s Melancholy or Fit for an Autopsy’s Absolute Hope Absolute Hell? Not quite, but for a first LP, the potential on display is exciting. I’ll be jamming Visions with some regularity, and looking forward what to these guys do next.
Favorite track: “Dystopian Visions”