Review: “Eternal Nightmare” by Chelsea Grin

A lot has changed for Salt Lake City, Utah Deathcore heavyweights Chelsea Grin in the build up to recording the newly released album “Eternal Nightmare”. Guitarist Jake Harmond exited the band in March after a 9 year stint citing family reasons. Then frontman Alex Koehler, the only remaining original founding member, announced his departure at the end of April, citing alcoholism and depression. To some it may have looked like the wheels were falling off, but the truth was the news of those departures had been suppressed for some time. Having entered the studio in January with a production team of Drew Fulk and Emmure guitarist Josh Travis (also in Glass Cloud) after some very successful touring, most notably including the Impericon Never Say Die Tour, the band must have been keen to maintain the momentum. So on the day that Alex Koehler announced his departure and new project Grudges, Chelsea Grin released single “Dead Rose” featuring new vocalist and former Lorna Shore frontman Tom Barber. So the timeline is clear and Barber was on board for the recording sessions in January. 2016’s “Self Inflicted” flirted with some almost Bring Me The Horizon-esque electronics on the scarily awful “Never, Forever” and with Barber on board would the band make something that was more akin to Lorna Shore’s path than their own heritage with their 5th studio album in 8 years? Lorna Grin, Chelsea Shore jokes aside, the Chelsea Grin have also gone from a 6 piece to a quintet, shedding two guitarists since the last album.

The album starts with the sound of chains being dragged across concrete as the slow bludgeoning opening riffage of “Dead Rose” builds the atmospheric into blast beats from Pablo Viveros and breakdowns from now lone guitarist Stephen Rutishauser and bassists David Finn, now the longest surviving member of the current incarnation. It’s a suitably fitting opening and single, a punishing Deathcore track and signal of intent. Rutishauser’s lead parts elevate the guitars while Barber brings the lyrical darkness with his guttural, throat shredding vocals. The downtempo parts are a glorious touch and then Chelsea Grin go off left. “The Wolf” starts off with some programmed industrialisms that make you think you’re trapped in a nightmware before busting into some technical Deathcore. The drop back to those buried electronics catches you off guard, but the addition to the sound makes sense in the context of the album theme as a whole. They are the sort of thing that you would expect from Nine Inch Nails or Motioinless In White and are totally unexpected. Opening with a glorious piano intro and the spoken word writing of an open letter “Across The Earth” picks up where opener “Dead Rose” left off and makes “The Wolf” seem more than a touch out of place in flow of the album. It’s gang chanted “Pray”, dark atmospherics and brutal slow breakdowns are a joy. “See You Soon” brings a groove to the guitars while utilising the buried electronics to underpin the sound. The clean (ish) spoken word and roared rather than sung clean (ish) chorus bring a new found level of accessibility to the bands sound while not detracting in any way from their core element. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is an attempt at commercialism – it is very much still a brutal track and one of the finer ones on show.

“9:30am” has a schizophrenic pace to it, staccato guitars overlaid with leads and an Emmure-esq mid song breakdown, it’s a headbangers dream, cramming as much into the 2 minutes 36 seconds running time as possible. “Limbs” is far more of a traditional Deathcore sound, a steady, brutal ear work out with something of the Nu-Deathcore on the lyrical front and is perhaps the band trying to appease their fans and keep to their core sound after some of the earlier experiments. “Scent of Evil” features some choice sweep picking and lead guitar work while continuing to stick to the by-the-numbers Deathcore routine. The “Blegh!” count to this point in the album as a whole rapidly reaching double figures, but it’s not a bad thing, in this listeners eyes at least. Second single “Hostage” takes more of an Emmure approach with a clean, crisp drum sound as the pounding rhythm section lays down the underpinning for what one of the album highlights. Adding an electronic layer to some of the vocal passages and a sudden plunge for an ambient section and melodic pause before the breakdowns kick back in are nice touches in what is otherwise a more straight up song.

“Nobody Listened” changes things up into more of a symphonic Deathcore sound laden with Blast Beats and sonically is more akin to Winds of Plague‘s early offerings. Tom Barber demonstrates more vocal range with some broken glass like higher pitched tones in amongst the guttural lows. Unfortunately the song cuts dead during a Death Metal inspired guitar part that would have been intriguing had it been left to play out for another couple of minutes. “Outliers” has a very short eerie melodic introduction before bouncing to life with some more of the groove riffage heard earlier on the album. The almost sudden stop to industrial backed spoken word and back up into bludgeoning guitars is nice but some of the rap screamed verses are more than a little cringe worthy, partly by being by the numbers lyrically. Fortunately the song is saved some what by a big down tempo breakdown with eerie atmospheric industrial sounds sweeping through it. Closing the album with title track “Eternal Nightmare” is saving the best to last. Tight lead guitar work in the introduction sets a tone and lifts everything. Having the lines “Welcome to your eternal nightmare” in the chorus should perhaps have made this a prime candidate for opening the album rather than closing and ends the album with something of an introduction piece. Whether that’s the band making a statement that the “Eternal Nightmare” will in fact be the next release rather than this one or making a statement that the band is back or here to stay, who knows?

What Chelsea Grin have done with “Eternal Nightmare” is create an album that for the most part plays it safe, an album that is aimed at appeasing their core fan base and given the level of change within their ranks, who can blame them for that? There are some industrial tinges which help build the overall dark ambience of the record as a whole and perhaps these elements be more widely utilised on future releases to expand on the bands sound. The next album will be critical in terms of the bands career, with a number of very, very good technical Deathcore bands with debut EPs out this year that will be chasing the likes of Chelsea Grin down with their debut releases. For now, Tom Barber has helped the three remaining members of the band produce an album that is solid and highly listenable without being a huge step away [7.5/10]

Track listing

  1. Dead Rose
  2. The Wolf
  3. Across The Earth
  4. See You Soon
  5. 9:30am
  6. Limbs
  7. Scent of Evil
  8. Hostage
  9. Nobody Listened
  10. Outliers
  11. Eternal Nightmare

“Eternal Nightmare” by Chelsea Grin is out now via Rise Records.

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