As Artifacts – Strong Hands (2012)

Have you ever tried to keep something together, no matter how broken and scattered the pieces might be? I know I have. Even if it seems like the shards of the once-solid solace you’re striving to contain seem to be scattered to the corners of the earth, you still valiantly strain to hold them together. Whether it’s as simple as a friendship or acquaintance–or as complicated as a relationship or even marriage–the concept is still the same. As Artifacts take that concept and apply it to their own heavy-soft style of metalcore on their debut full length, Strong Hands. Expertly hard-hitting, bone-busting breakdowns and atmospheric, melodic elements, As Artifacts demonstrate that no matter how well the pieces fit together in the first place, it takes strong hands to keep them that way.

The rupture happened suddenly–that much I remember clearly. It seemed like one day, we were happy, together, complimentary even. Her flaws and mine seemed to create gaps and grooves which filled each other in–even as mine were numerous and hers scant and forgivable at worst. The next thing I knew, the filling we had spent so much energy on using to fill those gaps was…well, gone, and there was nothing left to keep us together. The same can be said for As Artifacts’ Strong Hands. It ignites suddenly and without warning with the brief, volatile introductory track “Generation of Swine” with a violent sense of gumption and aggression which carries onward into “Chugs Ahoy,” which, despite the slightly cringe-worthy name, manages to be an album highlight. Filled with heavy, misanthropic brutality that wouldn’t be out of place on a deathcore album, yet offset with stunningly catchy clean vocals and a melodic chorus, “Chugs Ahoy” serves as an archetype for the album’s strongest tracks and most striking moments.

Once things were broken, I was left with the task of choosing how best to carry on. Do I fumble with the broken bits and pieces, attempting to re-construct what we had? Or maybe I ignore them altogether–try to grow past it and leave it as just another hurdle or milestone in my own personal timeline. Similarly, Strong Hands places itself at the same crossroads–do As Artifacts adhere to the patterns and precedents set up by the bands which clearly influence them most, or do they take those sounds and cast them aside, choosing something else instead? As is often the case, the answer isn’t just one or the other, but rather a combination of the two. Simply put, Strong Hands sounds like a product of the bands which serve as young introductions into heavy music, should those  bands have chosen to mature alongside your music taste. While tracks like “Bilbo Swaggins” possess a sharped instrumental dynamic reminiscent of deathcore and metalcore, it utilizes a vocal dynamic akin to that of Dance Gavin Dance–offsetting harsh, shrill screams with soothing clean vocals. In this manner, the dynamic which makes Strong Hands such a stand-out album is established by instrumental prowess, yet perfected by idyllic vocal expertise.

As with many metalcore albums, the foundation upon which all else is build lies with the percussion. Indeed, Strong Hands uses well-rounded, fill-laden drumming to begin construction of a cathedral of sound. While the drumming is heavy, punchy and anchoring, it also sees usage of a softer-side: the more melodic moments of “Bilbo Swaggins” and the 65daysofstatic-like instrumental track “For The Lost Lenore” showcasing this brilliantly. Meanwhile, the guitars and bass expound upon the drummer’s expertise, crafting dynamic high-flying melodies and harmonies which, at the drop of a dime or the order of a well-placed pinch harmonic can drop into muddy, lachrymating breakdowns. However, there exists a third layer, which is comprised of the ethereal dual-vocal assault and supported by the atmospheric, yet catchy and leading presence of the keys and programming. Nearly every track makes stunning use of the harsh screaming and smooth singing, but only few make truly exceptional use of the keys–which is ideal, lest they become nothing more than the standard metalcore gimmick. Among these, the climactic breakdown of “Sons of Corvinus” does this best–toggling vocals like a toddler at a light switch, while a brilliant piano churns away in the background.

Whether you’ve had to mend the broken pieces of your own personal life or not, As Artifacts have created an album which any listener can identify with. Whether it’s heart-wrenching woes of parenting-gone-wrong in the album’s namesake track “Strong Hands,” or stories of love and loss in “Bilbo Swaggins,” Strong Hands is packed to the brim with tracks and moments that make perfect use of the heavy-soft dynamic which not only combine expert elements from death, metal and post-hardcore classics, but has enough originality to serve as an archetype for blossoming metalcore artists to follow.

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By Connor Welsh ~ Me Gusta Reviews