LOUDER REVIEWS: 'Something to Remember Me By' - To Kill Achilles
Content warning: The following piece contains mentions of suicide. Reader discretion is advised.
Achilles in Greek mythology was invincible against attack from mortal or god- except for one tiny vulnerability, a chink in his armour which ultimately became his downfall. That acknowledgement that even the strongest of men carry weakness is something Scottish alternative rock quintet To Kill Achilles, have adopted from their namesake. The unnamed character at the centre of the lyrics on their new album ‘Something to Remember Me By’, wakes up on his 25th birthday with the full weight of that vulnerability on his shoulders, as the record then follows his journey to, ultimately, taking his own life exactly one year later. Whilst this story is, thankfully, a work of fiction, some of the tales told across the album come from the band’s own experiences, allowing the listener glimpses at the small vulnerabilities they too all carry. The same can be said, perhaps, of the record itself. While at times it does fall victim to the dark sludgyness of repetitiousness that so often plagues the post-hardcore genre, there are some truly stellar moments that are worthy of being carved into the base of this band’s statue.
Opener ‘fourpercent’ leaves you no time to catch your breath before breaking into a ferocious melee of riffs, strained unclean vocals and a spin-kicking worthy breakdown. Yet it is the haunting, echoing vocals at the halfway mark that bubble upwards towards the surface which are the first indication of the textures that have the potential to crash through the uniformity across the record to disturb the thunderous wall of noise. Demonstrating this admirably well is ‘Luna et Atum’, one of the record’s four singles. It kicks the tempo up a gear, the reverb lacing the guitars and beats of silence heralding the opening of the chorus elevates the track the closing moments when all the bitter venom drops away, leaving only the raw vocals to scream out against the silence. The mournful piano which cries out in the closing minute is undoubtedly emotive, though somewhat acts as a balm that reduces the breath-stealing impact of the unsullied final screams.
This tandem of full-throttle tracks, pin-pricked by slightly more subdued elements is a consistent theme across much of this record. ‘When You Live With Ghosts, You Don’t See The Dead’s scything guitar tones wail with their full metallic ferocity, and the unrelenting drums are undoubtedly going to rouse a ferocious mosh pit when this track is able to grace small stages of the post hardcore circuit once more. The small switch in dynamics come into play here in the form of softer moments slotted in amongst the relentless soundscapes, allowing for an irrepressible breakdown to follow. However, when this same formula is repeated across almost half of this album’s track listing, the continuity, particularly in the rough, unclean vocal style, can become quite draining on the listener after a while. ‘There’s No Right Way to Say This’ elevates the tempo with the thundering percussion, crackling with a flickering energy. Yet, even in the song’s softer moments, there are no clean vocals to provide some welcome contrast, and amplify the impact of the raging choruses. Following suit is ‘On My Mind’, where the drums drive the energy in its opening moments, which never really pauses for breath. There is real heartache and passion to be found here in the story of how we cling to the power of a strong relationship, even one strained by distance. However, here, and across much of this record, whilst the heart is undoubtedly there in the emotion which flows forth from the vocals, instrumentally, the theming on this record is so strong, that at times tracks flow into each other with little memorable definition between them.
There are some minutely brighter moments across this largely murky body of work that may appeal to fans of Sempiteral-era Bring Me the Horizon. In contrast to its utterly bleak title, ‘Oh God, I’ve Never Felt This Low’ boasts a soaring, undulating guitar line that makes the choruses almost danceabley poppy, and certainly encourages your hands to come waving into the air; it is as rousing as some of I Prevail’s most well-loved tracks, whilst still managing to retain a mournful acidity. Perhaps the most daring song instrumentally is ‘21:36’, whose guitar tone carries echoes of Yellowcard, though the sting in its tail is far less sunny! On ‘In Vain’ too, the guitar is brighter and less crunchy, creating a dynamic contrast with the straining vocal lines. This is one track whose various elements rea more clearly defined: the spiralling chorus is packed full of a zesty energy, yet the anguished spoken-word elements lead into a mournful final reprise. And, just to tick that final box, ‘Venom’ pops up with guitars that insinuate elements of emo melodrama, alongside the by-now-expected beefy basslines and throat-shredding vocals.
However, it is the record’s softer, delicate moments where To Kill Achilles really come into their own. ‘Black Marble’ follows a long succession of ranging tracks, and so has the atmosphere of sea foam floating along in the aftermath of a storm. The vocal tone again remains the same as the harsher tracks, which doesn’t gel quite as well with the stripped-back instrumentation as cleaner vocals may have; however, the aforementioned instrumentation is beautifully and artfully constructed to be both haunting and comforting in equal measure. ‘Agnostic’ too is a stand-out, with elements of the carefully constructed heart of bands like Holding Absence enveloped in its candour and fragile melody lines. And, if you needed any more proof, ‘We Only Exist When We Exist Together’ demonstrates perfectly that when the wall of sounds falls away, the intent and meaning of the lyrics is able to step into the spotlight. More slam-poetry than song, the plea for unity and the power of togetherness is incredibly sobering, especially in the hard times we are all still facing.
When looking retrospectively, the undeniable highlight of this record is the heart-wrenchingly tragic ‘Beautiful Mourning’. Here, the slam-poetry style vocals make a reappearance allowing the truly heartfelt and deeply personal lyrical content to slam itself into your gut and each word to imprint itself across the inside of your eyelids. The lyrics speak of the album’s central character’s incredible pain at losing his mother as a teenager, and the inhumane struggle of processing that kind of grief. In a year when so many people have lost those that they love, this is the kind of cathartic release that truly deserves its moment in the spotlight.
Capping off this odyssey of a record, the unamplified guitar strums its way underneath the gutful spoken-word lyrics, on ‘Something to Remember Me By’, which speak unapologetically of the stark realisation that addiction and hopelessness have taken a hold on your life and turned it upside-down. It is a bleak, yet important way to round off this record, as it illustrates that beneath all that screaming, noise, and virality, is a human being just trying to communicate their struggles to the wider world, in the hope that there is someone out there, listening.
'Something to Remember Me By' is out on the 5th of February via Arising Empire.
Check out the video for 'Oh God, I've Never Felt This Low' below: