Review - Counterparts

Jon B listened to the Counterparts album A Eulogy for Those Still Here, out now from Pure Noise Records ...

Counterparts boast a work ethic few can match. Since their sophomore album, The Current Will Carry Us – an album published only a year and a half after their debut – the band have put out new full-lengths every two years with remarkable consistency while maintaining a rigorous touring schedule. This is no easy feat on its own merits, yet Counterparts have cracked the impossible by refining their sound in a similarly consistent upward trajectory; each record has arguably surpassed the previous counterpart – pun intended. 2019’s Nothing Left to Love, while not as lyrically substantive as the two preceding albums, was still a genre exemplar of exceptional, no-bloat songwriting and sheer performative earnestness.

A Eulogy for Those Still Here marks a delay in the release schedule by an extra year, but considering the pandemic-induced turmoil in the interim, I suppose it’s justified. Despite its goofy album cover, Eulogy sported very solid pre-release singles – all of which appear sequentially after the intro track. Whispers of Your Death is a powerful, sentimental outing for frontman Brendan Murphy, and the one-two of Bound to The Burn and Unwavering Vow are a rousing follow-up. All three tracks are worthy additions to the Counterparts family, so why is the rest of Eulogy so underwhelming?

It brings me no pleasure in doing so, but I’ll rip the band-aid off: Eulogy is the weakest album since Currents, acquiescing to bromidic genre tropes and the band’s most uninspired songwriting to date.

Doubts were cast during the title track, where clean vocals are mixed in the forefront as the melodic centrepiece for a plodding endeavour al-a Paradise and Plague, albeit with atmospheric breaks not unlike Wither / Cursed. Thus, we have influences from one of Counterparts’ less memorable cuts alongside two discography highlights I’d much rather be listening to, now fused with Underoath-esque choruses that, frankly, aren’t a fit for Counterparts’ music – artists like If I Die First are far more satisfying remedies for that itch.

But the record’s problems aren’t exclusive to this; clean choruses are, at the very least, a questionable choice rather than an objective issue. I regret to inform that Eulogy houses numerous of the latter.

Album pacing is quashed in the midpoint by Skin Beneath a Scar, an emo damper no-doubt influenced by Nothing Left to Love’s title track, but what was once a mellow, introspective conclusion to an enterprising record is now a zolpidem-substitute that engages the skip functionality more than the listener. Sworn to Silence instils promise via increased tempo, but promptly extinguishes said hope as we’re exposed to maybe the most humdrum riffs from the band thus yet. The track plays its high-card hand of non-dynamic verses and bland chorus-hooks by its midpoint; a weak play considering Counterparts have a past of scoring straights and threes-of-a-kind, if not higher.

After a double-track disappointment, What Mirrors Might Reflect straightens course with the elating guitarwork and harsh-vocal choruses we’ve known to love – the cleans work much better as a backing to such. The whole “breakdown in the third act” approach is starting to show its cracks, but this isn’t an exclusive issue, nor a deal-breaker. Soil II is a different story. It boasts good melodies but feels like an interval; a fan-service throwback to the closer of The Difference Between Hell and Home that feels more indulgent than significant. It’s a second pace-killer in a record that already sprained its ankle mid-sprint.

Flesh to Fill Your Wounds attempts an album-resuscitation via strong first-impressions, but once again trips over itself with off-putting genericism in the chorus department. A breakdown dominates the second half which left me decidedly cold. Breakdowns require build-up and payoff, yet Counterparts sway undecided between build-up, weak-payoff, clean section, second payoff, as if we’re indecisively being served in halves. It’s a songwriting technique that always runs the risk of sounding lazy and artificial. This is a key example of such.

We reach the record’s conclusion with A Mass Grave of Saints, a serviceable albeit unremarkable mid-tempo cut. Still, I suppose Eulogy doesn’t outstay its welcome, keeping in-line with the brevity of the albums before it; it’s the same portion of around thirty minutes, but the contents lack flavour.

Murphy recently stated that “at this point we know what Counterparts should sound like”. It’s a statement which makes me simultaneously uneasy and semi-bemused, the latter because Eulogy evidently wants to try new things for the band, the former because both the new and old components on display are controvertible to sub-par. I must clarify that Counterparts’ new elements are new for Counterparts and Counterparts only; they’ve been commonplace in metalcore since the mid-2000s. What made Counterparts stand out was their no-filler, aggressive-yet-poignant approach described as “Converge covering Killswitch Engage songs” – plus a hefty dose of Misery Signals. Hence, we have a third wave metalcore band marrying the sensibilities of both the first and second; they’re a celebration of metalcore’s finest elements, no matter the stylistic contrast between them. Comparatively, much of Eulogy feels like what the metalcore naysayers say: the sound is “tired”, “dated” and “past its prime”.

Eulogy’s greatest failing is it casts doubt on both band and genre. Maybe Counterparts’ winning streak had to end at some point. Maybe they believed they couldn’t top Nothing Left to Love, so they derived other genre tropes in hopes they could stay afloat with worm-bitten wood, evidencing how old the tree is. Three pre-release gems are a fresh paintjob on that broken vessel, a vessel we now see as the second-hand, Douglas fir catboat it is. It’s sad to see.

Review Copyright Jon B – ©Jon B 2022 All rights reserved

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