Album: Tragedy Will Find Us
Label: Pure Noise Records
Pressing: 1st press, white with oxblood and black splatter /500
That drum intro reminds me so much of Defeater. It’s not a great place to start a review, comparing the subject to another current band. It does however, act as a good way of letting us know what style of Hardcore we are letting ourselves in for. Thankfully, at least in sound, that is where the similarities between Defeater & Counterparts end…
For example, that shuffling, train-like drumbeat signified the end of Defeaters Empty Days & Sleepless Nights, but it is a precursor to Counterparts Tragedy Will Find Us album (They don't actually sound the same, but that's where my mind took me). It acts as a warning, preparing you, and you feel it in your stomach. The train gathers pace and then breaks into full speed. ‘Stillborn’ hurtles along, and then that first breakdown gives you a glimpse of how heavy this album can be. Barely a minute in and we are dealt a heavy blow, it slows right down and becomes so crushing you stop and take notice, before the song breaks into that galloping pace again. It’s almost as if they want to fool you into thinking it will be business as usual, before pausing and turning to look you in the eye, saying ‘This is what the fuck is up’ before carrying on as if nothing has happened.
The guitars are further back in the mix for this album. The fret work is just as good, and the trademark Counterparts guitar licks are still there, but not being at the forefront of the mix gives the music that ‘wall of sound’ feel. The heavy points of the album are so much more crushing and brutal. The first half of the album is very dark, very heavy, and very angry, building throughout the first four tracks, and culminating in the breakdown on ‘Stranger’, which is perhaps the album's heaviest point. It’s so pissed off, so cathartic, so bitter, and it’s fantastic. “I am a stranger when I stare into the eyes of those I love. Look away in disgust, protect yourself from the sight of my deception”
The clean intro to ‘Burn’ lets you catch your breath, before Counterparts see if they can escalate the heaviness, eventually breaking into a melodic, almost uplifting guitar section instead. Although bordering on too long, the spoken word element works really well here - the layering of that vocal, and the subsequent breakdown remind me of Shai Hulud on That Within Blood Ill-Tempered. Which is obviously awesome. A video was released for ‘Burn’ just prior to the album drop, and I feel It is a very knowledgeable and well chosen ‘single’. It showcases every musical aspect of the album in this one track. It even trails off into a soft instrumental section, acting as an interlude before crossing into ‘Tragedy’, which is perhaps the most uplifting track on the album. It acts as a shining light after the darkness of the first five tracks, and has a rising hopefulness until the guitars step out from the mix. When that staccato, echoed guitar effect breaks out, it has such impact and warmth. A sceptic may write this off as being cheesy, but if Counterparts have hooked you in for the ride it makes for an amazing album midpoint. As the song eventually gives way to an instrumental section that in turn eventually collapses, your mind can’t help but wander away to somewhere positive before the silence of the record reaching the end of side A brings you back into the room.
‘Withdrawal’ keeps this more positive beat going, but the anger and self loathing are never that far away, and the heavy elements start creeping back into the sound, ‘Choke’ descending into another of the album's heaviest moments, and again that pairing of heaviness and spoken word works out for the better. However it doesn’t always work this well. Making the spoken word aspect a larger part of your sound is quite a commitment, and sometimes these elements almost ruin a track, and ‘Drown’ is the most prominent example of this. I feel it takes away from the song rather than adding to it…
As the album draws to a close, ‘Solace’ has this slow, waltz-like quality. This song wouldn’t work anywhere else on the album, but it is a fantastic closing piece and acts as another nod to how well considered this album is. ‘Solace’ is slower in pace, allowing that hopefulness to rear it’s head again, but the song is still heavy, creating a bittersweet sort of feeling - it’s almost as if vocalist Brendan Murphy reaches a point of self acceptance after all the catharsis of the preceding 30 minutes.
Tragedy… is a brilliant album. Counterparts have always been known for heaviness paired with soft melody, and this is definitely next level on this album. The heavy bits are heavier, the softer parts are more melodic, the fast parts are tighter, and there is more experimentation throughout. On previous album The Difference Between Hell & Home, the spoken word and ambient, almost post rock guitar pieces were practically confined to the track ‘Decay’. Here the spoken word, although not always successful, is an integral part of the album. The softer, melodic, musical experimentation acts as a bridge between tracks, and forms the backbone to the whole middle section of the album. These are both moves that I feel make for a much more mature sounding project
At the beginning of the article I compared them to Defeater. And there are similarities. Both bands have released their fourth album this year. They have both grown in reach, thanks to moving record labels. Each band have recurring lyrical themes, although arguably Defeater’s have a much larger scope, crafting their own world and narrative. And both bands have progressively honed their musicianship. Counterparts don’t sound like Defeater though. They are very much their own animal. An angry, snarling animal due to Murphy’s almost constant lyrical anger and bitterness.
Although it perhaps sits safely in the confines of ‘melodic hardcore’, a label I hate to use, Tragedy… is a very considered, confident, independent piece of work. I feel (along with Defeater) that Counterparts stand out in this genre - I always struggle to offer someone a sound comparison when trying to get someone to listen to this band. And I think that this is my favourite thing about Counterparts. After four albums, they could have completely changed their sound, or gone softer and more commercially viable. Safer and more generic. But over the course of four albums, they have stuck to their guns and become more themselves. Heavy, melodic, angry, accomplished musicians that will experiment with musicianship and production to give their sound more depth. This is a band that I feel continually hit a new stride with each album. This is in my top 10 for 2015. You should check it out.