Released June 30th, Sworn In‘s All Smiles album has been described by vocalist Tyler Dennen as an auto-dissection of his brain and heart for people to look in on. With fiery singles “Make It Hurt”, “Don’t Look At Me” and “Dread All” released in advance, the hype was already well and truly there for Sworn In‘s All Smiles. The red and black aesthetic became apparent pretty quickly, mirroring the dissection/blood factor and the darkness of topics offered up.
Diving in track-by-track, the album begins with “Make It Hurt”, which had endless plays on repeat at Depth Mag HQ. I’m already a fan of the way Sworn In structure their tracks, despite being a relative newcomer to the band and their sound.
Musically the heavy bass chugging and nu metal verses feel frantic, which only serve to have the wide-openness of the cleanly sung “MAKE IT HURT!” choruses feel even more relievesome. The shifting across timings and song sections is awesomely hectic and Sworn In don’t miss a beat. There’s nothing I don’t like about this.
“Help me out, make it quiet for tonight
I know it’s not safe, but I’ll be alright”
“Make It Hurt” is all about pain; asking for it, needing it, taking a stance of being willingly (and perhaps empoweringly) vulnerable in pain with another by surrendering. Lyrically, the experience of pain (presumed for Tyler) seems to be a means of self-understanding or at least silencing the non-understood things temporarily, to the pain experiencing extreme of (near?) death.
“Don’t Look At Me” carries an eerie skin-crawling vibe by way of sound which suits its message. Its deeper vocals, panting and scattered feeling seem to reflect an overwhelm by being observed and perhaps judged based on what is seen; it feeling like an intrusion and a desecration as opposed to a welcomed connection.
“It fucking hurts when I feel their eyes staring at me
Like peeling off my skin”
The heavy sheets of sound, distorted and chaotic, feel like a smothering with no way to get a breath or to escape. There’s intense frustration in the manner in which people are transparent in their actions as well as reactions, which seem to only add to the anxiety of self-experience being expressed here. It’s intense, as it should be.
“All Smiles” is third on the album; another thoroughly played track here. The themes of transparency as well as discomfort with other people both surface here. Through the lyrics, Tyler speaks about how the plastering of a fake smile is all that is needed for people to be reassured that he is fine. It becomes almost too easy to hide his self-neglect by presenting himself in a way that he can move through this alien world without drawing attention.
“Don’t ever let them see that side of me
Just use a prosthetic smile you fucking amputee”
Musically, “All Smiles” is another stellar track in typical Sworn In style with unique and ear-engaging structure. “All Smiles” sonically captures the weight and monotony of continuing to present yourself as something non-genuine, all the while feeling uncomfortable. The pull back to the catchy and cleanly sung (‘round and round’) chorus in amongst the edginess and unpredictability of the rest of the track feels taunting and nightmarish, returning back to this ‘happy’ facade for survival all the while being in darkness.
We are three for three with these impressive tracks, and definitely erring on the side of ‘love’ with this album which social media indicates people either love or hate.
Fourth on All Smiles is “Helluputmethru” (or “HELLUPUTMETHRU” if you keep the all caps style that Sworn In have used with this release), which was another ‘love at first listen’ for me. The song sections are again what make this track intriguing to me; the sense of never quite knowing where it’s going, along with the timing being played with. And yet there is a reliable base with the clean choruses, despite the rest of the song being seemingly unrecognisable to any other parts of itself.
“I won’t be nice and I’m a bad bad man
This is what happens when you treat someone as less than”
The self-hate is turned up a notch in “Helluputmethru” in the reference to being a ‘bad bad man’, which Tyler shared with Alt Press is a personification of self-victimisation; a darker part which takes over in an already darkened state.
“Mirror Fear” is self-explanatory by title, and, with a curious introduction of clean beats and bass, we’re instantly dropped into a self-separating sense of overwhelm. The dissonant tones seeming to have no connection with the vocals, yet that dynamic being a perfect representation of that hairs-standing-on-the-back-of-the-neck feeling of looking at oneself and seeing nothing you can connect with.
“It might sound dramatic but it’s sincere
I’d do anything to look and have nothing appear”
This track has a constancy to its sound which is unnerving in comparison to the rest of the tracks we’ve heard so far, feeling like something oppressive that can’t be shaken or freed from. It’s only when the mirror reaction escalates, into more firmly wanting to actively destroy the image than being frozen in fear, that the sound shifts too and moves into an identity-shattering quest for erasure and presents a catastrophic-edged capture of the experience. The ending of “Mirror Fear” seems to have a rawness beyond other rawnesses we’ve heard so far on All Smiles.
“Puppeteer” follows, and has a pretty devastating theme if you absorb it lyrically. It’s dark and ominous and fractured by way of sound, until it’s not; at its pretty choruses. The difference there is stark, seeming to reflect two different personalities.
“Be my puppeteer
Feed me lines
Feed me lines
And whisper in my ear”
“Puppeteer” is expressing the state of overwhelm where someone is such a ‘lost cause’ that they willingly lean on their functioning being guided by another, for their survival. It’s both a description of a coping mechanism as well as a reflection of an exceptionally challenging situation. It mirrors the vulnerability in “Make It Hurt”, allowing oneself to give control over to another.
“Cry Baby” has such a cool cinematic rock introduction. Seventh on All Smiles, “Cry Baby” describes a comfort and pleasure gained by emotional pain. The track seems to sample a car alarm, which is very fitting for this track that’s a warning for a lover to stay away from this person; a creator of emotional chaos, for his own ‘fix’. There is nothing safe in this desire to feel something significant, much like “Make It Hurt”; needing to be impacted hard or for it to just be far too dull in amongst the rest of life’s noise. The track hits home as a fellow human being that loves to feel, and does indeed feel alive in the bigness of human emotion.
I love the sting
The tears from my eyes bring
I’ll sing myself to sleep”
There’s a very interesting shift which takes the song from a strong chorus into a lighter drum focus and rap-esque section. Its upbeat and clear drum sound seems at odds with the warning vocals to stay away from ‘human slime’. The repeated lyric of ‘I fucking love living in hell’ could be taken as a simplistic capture of enjoying emotional misery.
“The Smiling Knife” shares the concept of a smiling assassin, someone who cuts deeply with their words, all the while being outwardly pleasant. Passively attacking someone to the core, never revealing their true agenda.
“I get what I want
And you’re easy to fool
Keep a smile while I butcher
That’s the only rule”
“The Smiling Knife” touches on the theme we’ve seen already in All Smiles, of plastering a smile to fool, as well as the questions of identity in relation to what’s being presented outwardly. Musically, this track has an eerie edge to its sound and feels more solid, as opposed to experimental, with an awesome closing.
The next track, “Dread All”, veers back into more of the experimental sound by way of timing and sections. “Dread All” has a stuttered sound throughout most of the track, with stuttered vocals that feel to be cautiously and progressively offering up their spoils.
“I dread it all, I dread it all
I choose the peaks and I live in the falls
I’m feelin’ small and it hurts to crawl
When I looked up were you looking down after all?”
The track feels like a quest to have someone else reflect the nothingness, unknown-ness and non-existence that Tyler seems to feel.
Second last on the album is “Closer To Me”, featuring a cleaner sound yet feeling weighed down in amongst its irregular beats and melodic chorus. The lyrics capture a conversation between a person and a darker self within them that’s existing and beckoning for them to know them. The ‘prettiness’ of the chorus could almost be taken as a seduction attempt by this dark side.
“Why don’t you
Why don’t you
Come closer to me”
“Cross My Heart” powerfully closes All Smiles. There’s an eerie openness to the track during its introduction. It may be a continuation of “Closer To Me”, capturing the experience of relating to and connecting with the darker parts.
“We’re the same and there’s nothing I can do
I accept this part
And I think I love it too”
The clean choruses are haunting, and the end of the track with its incredible drumming, breakdowns, ‘STUCK TOGETHER HERE TO STAY’ statement and ‘Why didn’t you ask if I was okay instead?’ make for a strong end. The feeling is that some of the horror going on within has now been turned inside out and recognising how it should have been handled.
Moving through All Smiles for review with intense focus and openness was no picnic, giving a bird’s eye view of struggle. Yet none of this was shared in shame, and there’s a sense of relief in the veil that had been in place being lifted and reality being revealed. The showcasing of skin-crawling discomfort and head-fucking intensity with unique structure and unpredictable timings has made for an engaging ride.
All Smiles is available now from all of the usual places, including Spotify.
Would have loved to see more creative lyrical content across the album.
Unique and unpredictable to the extreme. Important subject matter shared within the songs. Never a dull moment.