Red Handed Denial – A Journey Through Virtual Dystopia


It’s hard to believe that Red Handed Denial formed as early as 2008. Those new to their music would assume this is yet another whippersnapper quartet that’s late to the metalcore party. Instead, the Toronto natives boast a famous YouTube singer, Lauren Babic, who has 664,000 subscribers and a place inside the heart of this (sad and old) reviewer. Now on their fourth LP, Scream Blast Repeat remembers their last effort from 2022: ‘Album number three has an abundance of metal flair to keep you interested, but it wears its influences with too much zest and lacks a sense of humour to justify the earnest pop elements,’ is what we said at the time. We could say the same thing about A Journey Through Virtual Dystopia.

Red Handed Denial are confident enough to attempt what no other band apart from Faith No More has ever done with success – that is to merge metal and pop elements without sounding trite. Most metalheads will withdraw their interest upon hearing this statement. Yet the opening track is a genuine threat to the durability of your headphones. Listen how ‘Parasite’ starts with a squelching groove riff as Lauren goes into overdrive from the first note of screaming. Periphery and Jinjer are the inevitable comparisons in the heavy parts. The metalcore chorus is more of a Spiritbox affair, although Red Handed Denial pre-date Courtney La Plante and Co. by eight years. Can you feel the thick coating of guitar distortion in the verse parts as Lauren sings around it like a woman stranded at sea on a piece of cargo? Her roar in the middle eight is mightier than a bear; her falsetto punctuation in the chorus is even more impressive.

You can ask the question as early as track two: Is it easier for Red Handed Denial to incorporate pop into their soundscape because a female vocal is less irksome than a male emo voice? Unprocessed would be proud of the chorus to ‘My Demise’. The poppy moments are irresistible even if they’re more predictable than a full moon in a vampire story. Perhaps the respite of trap beats and trip hop bass in the middle eight offers a glimpse of what else this band could do outside their three-minute pop structures. By contrast, we’d be much more critical of ‘One More Night’ if the vocals came from a good-looking male singer with perfect teeth as the synths blow through your ears like a gentle breeze at the beginning of summer.

Of course, the definition of anathema in metal music is the presence of pop sensibilities among the aggression and macho posturing. It’s not as annoying as it should be here. Sleep Token fans will enjoy the R&B vocal lines and confident melodies of Babic’s voice in ‘Falling Back to You’, but this music will struggle to appeal to those who like the sharper end of metal. To be fair, the bowel-rupturing riff after the second chorus would not be out of place at a Meshuggah concert. The guitar solo is thoughtful and smooth, like an elaborate neon light effect. Babic makes it sound easy to switch between the vocal styles in ‘Smokescreen’, but the transitions are difficult to execute. She does a fine job in this song. Can you feel the quicksand dragging you into the abyss in the breakdown at the end?

Red Handed Denial would be exciting if we hadn’t heard this style of music reach saturation point seven years ago. A sorrowful croon to end the album at closing track, ‘Home’, is not objectionable, but it’s not memorable either. We need more songs like ‘Eat Glass’, where Chris Mifsud dazzles us with his tech metal riffing and the drummer extracts maximum enjoyment. There’s no sign of a clean chorus here when the aim is to bludgeon.

In an ideal world, this album would make the “djenting” metalcore sceptics sit up and take notice. But Lauren Babic would also be married to this reviewer in an ideal world…


Verdict


Release Date: 24/05/2024

Record Label: Paid Vacation Records

Standout tracks: Parasite, Smokescreen, Eat Glass

Suggested Further Listening: Unprocessed – Artificial Void (2019), Venues – Solace (2021), Polaris – Fatalism (2023)