Beartooth have established themselves as one of the hardest bands in the US heavy scene, and most of this comes down to frontman Caleb Shomo, who is the centrepiece of everything Beartooth represents. He writes every note of their music himself, every riff, every breakdown and every lyric. He pours his blood, sweat, and tears into every Beartooth record and it shows.
2014’s Disgusting was (in my opinion) one of the most complete heavy records in recent years, still standing to this day as one of my personal favourite albums. Beartooth’s 2016 follow up, Aggressive, was not quite as thorough, but was still rather enjoyable. Because of this I greatly anticipated their new album, Disease. With two albums under their belt and the opportunity to work out the kinks from each, I was hoping they could create something special, so I dived headfirst into Disease to study it track by track.
Opening up with soft acoustic guitar and pained melodies, first track “Greatness or Death” quickly heats up and launches into vicious verses. The harsh screams and pained cleans represent the contrasting highs and lows behind the lyrics, as Caleb lays himself out for the world to see. Vulnerable and aching, the lyrics speak of a light in the dark, with the good times existing despite the overwhelming natural negativity of his mind. Happiness comes with ignorance, yet the main sense of relief still comes through acceptance, as the lyrics “I’m beginning to think I can’t outrun these demons, but you know what they say, sickness is in season”, launch into a massive breakdown, reflective of the release of frustration and pain.
The struggle of mental illness is a large theme throughout Disease, and carries on into the lead single for the album, “Disease”. Clean vocals painted with misery take over the song, making you as a listener feel the sting of Caleb’s words. “Disease” is emotionally heavy, and is rather soft instrumentally compared to other songs on the album, perhaps representing one of the lows that come with this affliction. Dark guitar slides combined with bouncing drums makes you want to punch the air, as the catchiness of the song will firmly plant itself on repeat in your head. Yet while catchy, the passion is still evident for “Disease”, as the convulsing vocals tell a lacerating tale of mental torment.
“Fire” hits the sweet spot between rock and hardcore, and is filled with harsh instrumentals that contrast you between headbanging and dancing like it’s nothing. Guns out and charging into battle, the warcry of the fever-filled vocals pumps adrenaline, as Caleb appears to be battling his demons successfully. A high amongst the lows, he dances in the dark as he catches himself in a moment of blissful relief from the constant onslaught of toxicity. The instrumentals take on a more upbeat tone, matching this positive turn of mood and planting a smile on the listener’s face. This is Beartooth at its best.
“Save your breath, it’s all turning into static,
there’s no chance you’re winning this fight.”
The verses of “You Never Know” instill discomfort, and are reminiscent of a nightmare as the hauntingly gruff grunting vocals scrape through, struggling to get out into the world. Just when it seems all hope is lost an almighty clean chorus jumps out from nowhere and brings you back to earth. Catchy and dominant, the cries of uncertainty and anxiety are painfully relatable to say the least, and feel overwhelmingly powerful. Guitars here are paramount, as they growl through the background and seem to scare the drums into life, sending them into a hard-hitting head-banging frenzy. Everything combines to create an atmosphere of claustrophobia, as it feels as if Caleb is trapped inside his own head. Stuck in an endless torment of uncertainty, “You Never Know” captures the terror that comes with this feeling.
“Bad Listener” can be perfectly described in one word: MEAN. Embracing the harsher aspects of rock and roll, Caleb brutally screams about what he loves; damn heavy music! Harsh revving guitar rolls throughout the whole song, and the ‘no fucks given’ factor combined with full-blown pride in the music he creates mixes with brain-melting instrumentals to create a ridiculously fun heavy track. Constantly bouncing or banging your head, this song is one to acknowledge the role music plays in Caleb’s life, and how it keeps him going, and provides him with a perfect outlet to express himself.
After “Bad Listener” has you at an all-time high of adrenaline, “Afterall” is a swift reminder of the mental anguish behind the lyrics of this album. Speaking of overthinking and feeling hopeless, Caleb’s vocals continue to portray the haunting emotional depths that continue to frighten him. Unsure of why he’s even so sad, “Afterall” speaks of continued uncertainty and how that sense of not knowing can continuously taunt your mind. He can feel the light burning out, and the suffering is hammered home through the expression of the vocals and the darkness of the guitars. One of the better choruses of the album, “Afterall” is a definite highlight.
“I must be doing this all wrong.
Should be happy but I’m searching for the reasons why.”
Tormenting himself mentally appears to be a common theme of Caleb’s lyrics throughout the album, and “Manipulation” is another case of this as it appears to be a reflection of Caleb’s toxic relationship with himself. The frustration and fury behind it comes through in the guitars, roaring and rumbling with the drums to create a bouncy and heavy burst of energy through the instrumentals. Constantly feuding with himself and trying to tear himself down, Caleb looks at that dark side of himself as if it is another person, and vows to get away from this horrendous and manipulative being.
Possibly the heaviest song on the album, “Enemy” carries on this story of a man battling against himself. It takes the harshness of “Manipulation” and takes it to a new level, involving screeching guitars, darker tones, and heavier screeching vocals. Pumping up more, Caleb appears to get the upper hand in this fight yet again, as he lyrically speaks of succeeding and getting ready to move on. The crisp clean chorus provides a well needed relief from the brutality that is these verses, and puts the cherry on top of what is a very well rounded song lyrically and instrumentally.
“Believe” changes it up and is more punk-rock than it is hardcore. Instrumentally it is relaxed, and vocally it focuses heavily on the cleaner aspect, combining both these to make a nice catchy tune. Softer and cosier, the rockier approach seems to suit Beartooth perfectly. Lyrically it speaks of optimism, and how while a positive thing, it can also be a curse, an overrunning burden on your mind. False hope comes with optimism, and it can’t ever be ideal.
“Believe” portrays emotion just as well as other songs off Disease, yet takes a much softer approach, and I believe it to be the highlight song off the album. For me personally Beartooth are yet to capture the highs that they reached with their heavy songs on Disgusting, and right now it seems like they are sitting right in the middle of heavy and rock. To go really hard with one or the other would escalate them to the next level I feel, and I would love to see what they could create if they dedicated themselves to making rockier music.
“My vendetta’s with the evening,
God knows I am never sleeping.”
After seemingly gaining some relief from the torment through “Enemy” and “Believe”, Caleb sinks back into a low point during “Infection”. He feels the darkness seeping back into his mind and taking over, and can do nothing except watch as it runs through his body. You can hear the fear in the vocals as Caleb hopelessly feels himself being torn apart from the inside. This dwindling insanity seems to come and go with the intensity of the instrumentals, not just through this song but through the rest of Disease as well.
Penultimate track “Used and Abused” is also a high point for the album. This song I feel really recaptured what made me love Beartooth originally, and really captured my heart as soon as I heard it. The fast verses and hectic instrumentals combine to form an edge-of-your-seat insanity-inducing sequence that continues throughout the whole song. It leads into each chorus perfectly, and keeps the fast paced edge going through the cleans flawlessly. The intensity of this song is untouchable through the rest of this album, and the more I listen the more I love it.
“I’m not a part of your institution,
is your trust some grand illusion?”
Caleb’s vocals hit the sweet spot between clean and hard, and instrumentally the song remains heavy, yet adds an aspect of melodic insanity as well. I honestly feel that “Used and Abused” could have been taken straight off of Beartooth’s debut album (my favourite), and gee this song is good.
Closing the album is “Clever”, which is another rocky track, and speaks lyrically of living life with a facade. Constantly having to hide the pain he’s going through, Caleb struggles to find a reason to keep on living. The hopeless feeling that comes with this is reflected through the high pitched guitars rolling through the background, screeching and whining like they’re slowly bleeding out. Caleb’s vocals feel softer, and it seems like he is nearly out of energy as the slow funky instrumentals mix with his distant echoing vocals to create a feeling of numbness. They couldn’t have picked a better closing track, and going out in this way, leaking passion and pain, seems a suitable way to end a lyrically emotional record.
With Disease Beartooth have put forward a fairly strong album. It touches lyrically very heavily on the ups and downs that Caleb goes through with mental illness, and captures the mental turmoil of that through the vocal tones and the instrumental work fluently. It also has a good fluctuation of heavy and soft songs, although I feel Beartooth would be better suited in the future to following the rockier side of things, as I feel the softer rockier songs were largely the highlights of the album.
Disease released 28th September via Red Bull Records/UNFD. Check out Disease now: https://unfd.lnk.to/Disease
Overall solid. Killer instrumentals. Powerful vocals. Builds upon Beartooths last album in a positive light. Shows flashes of peak Beartooth and how far they could continue to climb.
Several songs are structured fairly similarly. Some of them mould into one seemingly.