I was a bit late in hopping on the deathcore bandwagon. It wasn’t until a chance encounter with As Paradise Falls’ 2014 EP Save Yourself that I began to see some merit in the style of music—for the first time, I found a hint of fun and looseness in deathcore’s pummeling down-tuned riffs and chugging guitars. Though I’ve branched out within the genre in the years that followed, I still return to Save Yourself on a somewhat regular basis; with an unmatched sense of groove and melody, it’s as close to a perfect deathcore release as I’ve heard. Following the tragic passing of guitarist Glen Barrie, APF’s continued existence, much less the release of a full-length record, was shrouded in doubt. Yet the band pushed forward in Glen’s memory, regrouping with a new lineup and reinvigorated sense of resolve in 2016, determined to perfect their long-awaited debut LP. Ultimately, this perseverance proved fruitful, as Digital Ritual, the result of a massive collective effort, distinguishes itself as a premier deathcore release.
In the time between Save Yourself and Digital Ritual, As Paradise Falls’ sound has evolved considerably. Rather than leaning solely on deathcore, the band opted to throw some more ambient, futuristic, Rings of Saturn-esque sounds into the mix. This ultimately results in a record that, while still undeniably deathcore, has a little more of a unique, death metal-tinged vibe. While I’d largely peg this expansion as a positive development, the increased sense of ambition presents its own share of complications. I give the band credit for employing clean vocals in a manner beyond the typical melodic choruses, yet this aspect definitely needs a bit of work to meet is full potential. Frankly, though Shaun Coar is an excellent deathcore vocalist, his singing voice leaves a lot to be desired. He has some truly great moments, like his channeling of Avenged Sevenfold’s Matt Shadows on “Glory to the Server,” but a handful of truly awkward bridges and choruses, most notably on closer “Captive to the Creation,” put a damper on the whole ordeal.
While As Paradise Falls’ exciting, dynamic songwriting has remained mostly intact, certain tracks, most notably opener “Balance,” rely too heavily on monotonous chugging guitar sections. This isn’t a problem that plagues the entire album, and there are a handful of truly memorable riffs sprinkled throughout the record, but it nonetheless knocks Digital Ritual down a couple notches overall. Thankfully, though, APF’s excellent sense of fun and melody hasn’t gone anywhere; most tracks boast truly addicting grooves, conjuring memories of the glory days of Save Yourself. Yet Digital Ritual ultimately distinguishes itself as a wholly unique entity; the songwriting feels rawer, and the band seem more comfortable stepping out of the midtempo deathcore slogs. Nonetheless, some noodly, progressive riffing in the place of occasional chugging lags in momentum would’ve been greatly appreciated.
If it sounds like I’m being a bit harsh on As Paradise Falls, that’s only because I know how much they’re capable of. Hearsay and expectations aside, Digital Ritual is a great deathcore record—one of the year’s best, for sure—and I give the band a whole lot of credit for emerging from tragedy to continue making the music they love. “The Ultimate Consumer” and “Dead Message” are up there with APF’s best material, and though Digital Ritual can’t quite match the near-perfection of its predecessor, it’s nonetheless an absolute must-listen for deathcore fans.
Start paying attention—this is a remarkably solid debut from a band with a bright future. Eclipse Records found themselves a winner.