Some bands can struggle to sit comfortably in that area where one can be insanely heavy, but contagiously catchy at the same time. Beartooth is not one of those bands. Since 2013, Beartooth has grown in every conceivable way, and the latest release, “Below” is a testament to that.
“Below” is the fourth full-length release from Beartooth. Born out of the incredible mind of Caleb Shomo, the album is a dark, yet insanely energetic exhibition of a troubled state of mind. Shomo has carried out literally every duty on the production of “Below”, including recording of all instruments, production, mixing and mastering. This is how it has been since the beginning for Beartooth. It’s Shomo’s emotional release, his catharsis, a way of putting everything on the inside, to the outside. He has been recording and producing music since his teenage years, and you can hear the progression in not only the production of Beartooth’s album but also the lyrical, thematic and compositional components also.
In all honesty, I didn’t resonate strongly with the first two releases. Though the energy was certainly there (the intensity from this band is incredibly high, probably second to none in this genre), I always felt like the mix was lacking in a much needed heaviness, especially when it came to the breakdown sequences. They almost felt like that sneeze that vanishes just before you let it out; the build up is there and you know it’s coming, but ultimately you’re deflated when the moment of truth doesn’t live up to what you expected. However, 2019’s “Disease”, a 16 track-long marathon (plus 2 live recordings from Rock am Ring on the Deluxe version) was offered to us, and my feelings completely changed. The production was thick and polished, and the heavy moments were fulfilled in their density. The choruses have always been catchy since the 2013 EP “Sick”, that’s indisputable, but songs like “Afterall” from “Disease” were just immediate hits. Shomo knows that he has developed a formula for success when it comes to anthemic choruses, and more importantly, the formula isn’t set in stone. Over time he’s built on it, and it’s allowed him to come up with some pretty recognisable and distinct choruses that you can pick out with absolute ease. This is something that shouldn’t be understated either. You don’t just leave a formula to grow on its own like a mushroom in the dark. You work on it, you refine it, you filter out all of the things you’re not happy with bit by bit until you have what you want, and even then it’s still not done. Leonardo Da Vinci once said “art is never finished, only abandoned”, and this rings true for all performing arts. It can always be better, but that’s what drives us to create more, to keep honing our craft, and Shomo embodies this concept wholeheartedly.
Digressions aside, “Below” is a huge release. It has an intense heaviness that is so perfect for Beartooth’s sound. This is the density that I wish they possessed from the very beginning, but the fact we have it now in the form of “Below” makes me once again appreciate the work and development from Shomo.
The frustration at the world in its current state is starkly evident on this album. That frustration also comes from deep within Shomo, potentially from too many moments of forced introspection as a result of being locked down and packed away during the pandemic. Lyrically it gets darker and darker as the tracks flow from one to the next. By flow, I mean ‘relentlessly pummel you with a loud and strong sonic front that barely, if ever, lets up’. I honestly felt like I was back at a gig again, hearing a live band just go for it. The energy that a band will put out live is different to the energy they’ll put out on a release, but I feel like it’s the same thing for Beartooth. It’s been Shomo’s ethos since the inception of the band, to go wild, have fun, and put your everything into it, and this album gives me the impression that this ethos is not going anywhere.
The opening track, “Below” is a huge “Hey, we’ve missed you.” from Beartooth. You’re thrown into a massive rock rhythm straight away, and anyone can instantly hear that Shomo is truly excited to be giving us another record. His “oh yeah” which transforms into a hearty laugh at the beginning is the equivalent of a cowboy belting out the biggest and best “yeehaw” he could possibly muster.
I bopped my head continuously during big choruses like the one in “The Past is Dead”, though the bridge almost had me feeling like that devious ‘almost-sneeze’ was coming back, with a relatively underwhelming sequence. Thankfully the bridge got thicker and introduced a nasty little guitar riff that I loved, and we were quickly back on track.
“Fed Up” is up there as one of my favourite tracks on this album. It’s a nihilistic outburst of ‘screw all of this’ that reminds me of old-school punk rock, with classic calls and responses between the vocals and the guitars. There’s even a vintage effect on Shomo’s vocals that adds to this old-school feeling. Remember “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett? That weapon of a track? I was immediately brought back to that and I couldn’t have been happier about it. I love that Beartooth is happy moving around the rock spectrum, going from sounds present in rock ‘n’ roll and pop-punk all the way to more thrash and metalcore-related themes. The music can swing from pop-punk moments like in “Skin” and “The Answer” (this track holds my favourite chorus in the album, Shomo knew exactly how to make it memorable) to deathly heavy like in “Dominate”, easily my favorite track on this album. “Dominate” is grossly heavy, catching me off guard in that it holds more intensity and darkness than the other tracks, and I welcomed this with open arms.
Shomo’s vocals are terrific on this album, and they have gotten better and better through each release. In terms of singing and screaming, it seems that he’s really taken the time to capitalize on his passion for both. The chorus for “Devastation” is so damn catchy (forgive me if I use that word too often), but also shows off his elite-level grasp of his vocal techniques, especially singing ‘fading away from me’. It’s tremolo-packed at one brief moment, then almost immediately a no-holds-barred scream the next. It’s effortless yet immediate transitions from singing to screaming like that that made us fall in love with vocalists like the late Chester Bennington from Linkin Park. If we’re talking about comparisons, it’s hard not to suggest that at times he possesses clean vocal traits similar to Jeremy McKinnon of A Day to Remember.
He’s comfortable going over the top sometimes, giving larger-than-life performances even in the studio. I remember listening to “I Have a Problem” (the “Disgusting” version) and thinking ‘wow, this guy is just losing it’. Ironically, he hasn’t lost that, and at some points I even began to worry about the wellbeing of his voice. The end of “Phantom Pain” had me ‘shook’, as the younger generation likes to say. Shomo’s screams are so harsh here; it’d be the same as running your car’s engine well above the red line for a long stretch. Sure, it’s amazing to see the engine running that high, but you’d better bloody watch out for damage. I’d hate for him to ruin his vocal folds doing what he loved, but at the same time, I deeply appreciated the amount of emotion and power that went into recording that.
When he’s not breathing fire into the microphone, Shomo is also recording everything else for this record, as previously mentioned. The guitar tones in “Below” are super heavy and much more distorted than past releases. Some sections really bring out the crunchiness of the guitars like the last section in “Fed Up”, almost sounding like a chainsaw with those fast palm-muted chugs. Overall, however, the tone ties in well with the rest of the sonic atmosphere this album possesses. Tracks like “No Return” and “I Won’t Give It Up” have some crazy-fun guitar parts jumping around in them, reassuring the listener that while the general sound is powerfully heavy, it can still be melodic and energetically light.
The drums are produced with a hugely improved level of production. One of the things that led me to feel that the previous albums were lacking in weight was the drum production, but “Below” had me in love with the drums straight away. The snare drum hits in the breakdown in “Below” are so huge, they could easily be mistaken for gun shots. The china cymbal is like the canopy of a tree in that it just gorgeously stretches over the top of the mix, creating this almost-tangible roof that lets you know just how high the atmosphere reaches. Ultimately, I’m almost 100% sure that Shomo would be beyond happy with how the instruments have turned out on this record, happy enough that the last track, suitably titled “The Last Riff” is a huge slammer that is completely devoid of vocals.
“Below” is a wondrously massive addition to the Beartooth discography. It’s everything the fans of the band know and love, but on a higher level in every way. One thing hasn’t changed though, and that is the amount of passion and emotional investment that has been injected into each release since 2013. By the end of this record, you’re going to have a hard time staying away from the repeat button. From start to finish, you’re given a full and satisfying range of what Beartooth has to offer. Nothing gets old, nor does anything stand out in a bad or unfitting way. Every sound and word sits right in its place, and as a result it feels so natural. Despite the self-deprecating lyrics and themes littered throughout the track, I heard nothing but a profound sense of confidence and comfort in Shomo to be able bring about some truly entertaining songs. Beartooth is in its prime, and I deeply hope this stage of the band’s life is kept in a state of constancy.
Released On: June 25th, 2021
Released By: Red Bull Records
Genre: Hardcore / Punk / Heavy Rock / Metalcore
- Caleb Shomo / Lead Vocals, All Studio Instruments, Production
- Oshie Bichar / Bass Guitar
- Connor Denis / Drums
- Zach Huston / Lead Guitar
- Will Deely / Backing Guitar
- The Past is Dead
- Fed Up
- No Return
- Phantom Pain
- Hell of It
- I Won’t Give it Up
- The Answer
- The Last Riff
The fourth studio album from Beartooth is one for the ages. It’s unforgiving in its incessantly energetic attitude. The power comes raw and beastly, but the catchy choruses will take you back to the good old days of post-hardcore in the mid-to-late 2000’s; impossible to get out of your head. Shomo has improved everything about Beartooth on this record, and consequently the rest of band will have a tall order to fill when live shows are truly back.