Shift by AXISRelease date: November 10, 2017
Label: Good Fight
It’s pretty much received opinion that music tends to be cyclic and iterative; trends reappear and are revived if the listener hangs on long enough. The constant reappearance of ’80s style sounds is the one that baffles me most, but that probably reflects my taste more than anything. Recently there’s been a bit of an upswing in a revival in late ‘90s style metallic hardcore, with bands like Knocked Loose, Renounced and Code Orange taking the template forged by Norma Jean, Botch and Poison the Well and battering it into a new, blunter shape. It is squarely into this ring that AXIS throw their cap with their sophomore album.
In a way this record, along with releases from the above bands, is doing a sterling job of reclaiming the good name of metalcore from the hundreds of poor copyist bands and even the diminishing returns of recent records from bands that established the genre; Shift helps breathe new life into a genre that has felt dead on its feet for quite some time by refocusing aggression onto rhythmic intensity, unusual sonic experimentation and a willingness to divert from the template to achieve the required outcome – in that way they really do feel like the spiritual successors to Botch, Breather Resist and the rest of these originators.
Shift is the bands’ second full length album, with a collaborative EP with Seraph released between, which took the band away from their in far more of a post-metal direction, taking on a Neurosis style scope and scale and dropping the pace, very successfully. Shift has taken some lessons from that experience, with atmospheric touches and sections more prominent than before, such as in the case of the restrained final third of ‘Parasitic Eye’, which segues beautifully into the punishing ‘Faith’, the dynamic shift making the explosive grind of the first verse seem more imposing. Shift also marks a personnel change, with guitarist Dylan Downey stepping up to provide vocals after the departure of their previous singer, and providing a gruff, dirty yell that acts as more of a rhythmic, percussive tool than a traditional vocal, accenting the off-kilter percussion and the big riffs perfectly. It’s not a polished vocal by any stretch, but its roughness fits the sound, and when he tries something different – such as a haunting clean vocal sitting low in the mix on ‘Faith’ – it is both surprising and effective.
The record is a mix of aggressive, in your face bluster such as the pounding ‘Sovereign’, with its downright ferocious mathcore main riff and aggressive percussion, and more measured tracks that play with dynamics, oddly metered riffs and and pounding, almost tribal rhythms, such as two part opener / closer ‘Shift I’ and ‘Shift II’, which rely on atmospherics as much as they do massive riffs, and which also display intricate melodies, albeit hidden under bleak, mountainous compositions. This level of experimentation and musical ambition elevates the band above the majority of their current peers and not only justifies the comparisons to heroes like Botch and Norma Jean, but also makes for a multi-layered record where repeat listens generates new experience past just the exhilarating whack in the head of the riffs. Even deceptively straightforward songs like the downright furious ‘Ravine’ have stings in the tail – in this case the song moves from a first section littered with blast beats that feels almost like blackened hardcore into an emotional post hardcore mid-section that catches the listener off-guard before a massive riff delivers a gut punch to close. It’s a record that should come with a health warning too, albeit potentially for stupid people – on one instance when the riff hits hard in ‘Shift I’ it caused a little involuntary mini-mosh; this would have been fine if I wasn’t on the treadmill at the time – I’m penning my personal injury lawsuit in parallel to this review.
AXIS have kicked this one out of the park. It’s a great album bolstered by thick, unwavering production that allows all of the instruments space to breathe, still sounds punishingly heavy, and works with the unexpected dynamics to great effect. The record feels like a genuine continuation of the best proponents of the metalcore scene of the late 90’s, with massive riffs, irresistible rhythms and an intelligent approach to battering the listener senseless; however AXIS move the sound forward with the deft use of atmospheric touches and dynamics to add more texture and elevate the overall sound. It’s well worth your time.