Review: “Geist” by The Browning

Believe it or not, The Browning have been around since 2005 in one form or another, with “Geist” being their 4th full length album in a 13 year career that has also seen them spawn a pair of EPs. The album sees the return of Collin Woroniak to the bands line-up, having departed in 2016, however he returns on bass rather than reprising his original guitarist role. Frontman Jonny McBee released a number of videos on his Jonny FX channel during the making of the album, one of which explained delayed vocal tracking due to him suffering from Bells Palsy. In an interview, he’d previously stated that there needed to be a massive change, not just musically for the listeners, but for himself. In the vocal department, he mentioned working for 3 years to find a voice that was powerful and melodic while also being heavy and emotional and his end goal being to keep The Browning strictly on the Industrial-Electronic-Rock-Metal path.

Starting off with a build and then providing a Linkin Park riff before the vocals kick in “Sick Minds” is a Nu-Metal throwback song that doesn’t fit the usual Synthcore sound mould you would expect from The Browning. Instead of the slabs of synth that previous albums had, giving a horror video game feel, this one is dialed back. The synths are much lower in the mix and the vocals are barked and introspective. “Beyond Stone” brings heavier and darker synths alongside blast beats and breakdowns that are more in keeping with the bands sound. That is until a female clean vocal break, which is follows by a surprise chorus of clean vocals from Jonny McBee that comes off really well. The song has a glorious rise and fall as it moves seemlessly between sections of melody and heavy, until a final gutteral roar. “Final Breath” features Jake Hill and has a riff that isn’t too far away from something that Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit would bring during the opening passage. This is broken up during the verse and the clean vocals during the chorus are once again relatively tasteful if lacking in lyrical diversity. The synths star and it’s a song that would work better on a film soundtrack that it does on the album context. “Ever Lost” picks up where “Final Breath” leaves off and then builds up the heavy with a bleakness but becomes a real slog during the final chorus verse closing.

“Optophobia” brings a heavier start with a brutal roar from McBee, blast beats and dark synths, then after a tasteful breakdown, there is a opening chorus of Nu-Metal clean lyrics. Upping the heavy once again and then dropping it back. It becomes very apparent that the album is a deeply personal one. Sadly the track cuts short just as it’s getting going.  “Awaken the Omega” drops the unclean vocals completely for the opening third, instead opting to build the atmosphere with quieter dark cleans and building into a big sing-a-long chorus. The song has a very melodic and meloncholic atmosphere that has precious little to do with the title of the song. Its not a bad track by any stretch but you have to be in the mood for it. “Hellblade” sensibly ups the heavy, buries some of the synths in the mix and delivers slabs of breakdown riffs and unclen vocals. It does break out into cleans but only minimally and the kit work shines. “Carnage” was one of the pre-release singles and has much more of the older The Browning feel. Trance esq techno music that breaks out into rap before returning to it’s source material. It’s a song that works for the most part though the need for the rap is arguable.

Album title track “Geist” features guest vocals from Paul Bartzsch of We Butter the Bread With Butter. The German seems to inspire the Americans into to delivering a better track. The guitars are heavier, the synths darker and the vocal delivery is far more intense. The album title track is the best song on the album to this point. “Noctis” returns to the Nu-Metal inspired lyrics and clean vocals however with a darker feel and more intensity. The song isn’t so much an anti-religious piece but one that is about God not taking control. “Amnesia” picks up the dark synths and starts off like a remix before bringing in some better riffs and uncleans with bite. It’s a much more driven track than some of the earlier material that labours in comparison. In the same way Static-X called their music “Evil Disco” you get that from this. Perhaps “Evil Rave” being more appropriate. The quality of the closing breakdown is so good that it would have been a fitting closing for the album. However “Skybreaker” is the final cut. It has a slow build that eventually gets somewhere around the 2 minute mark and then drops off again. It comes across as being bolted on to the end of the album which had a slow start before getting to some solid material.

Jonny McBee had said about changing the bands style and the changes are distinct and obvious from the start. In places they work and in places they don’t leaving the album as a whole a patchy affair. It isn’t the changes however that are so much of the let down of the album, it’s more that the songs sound flat in places, lacking in intensity, energy and passion. That is perhaps the surprising thing about the material, with that band having a particularly energetic live show. The weaker tracks do grow on you with multiple listens but the question is whether you will let them get that far. The album title track itself is a banger of a track and there is enough to hold the rest up but this one is distinctly in the must try harder category [6/10]

Track listing

1. Sick Minds
2. Beyond Stone
3. Final Breath (Ft. Jake Hill)
4. Ever Lost
5. Optophobia
6. Awaken the Omega
7. Hellblade
8. Carnage
9. Geist (Ft. Paul Bartzsch of We Butter the Bread With Butter)
10. Noctis
11. Amnesia
12. Skybreaker

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