Lauren Babic is a Canadian YouTube sensation (disclaimer: this reviewer is a subscriber to her channel). Nowadays, her status as a multi-million streaming cover artist and vocal coach brings her more fame than her metalcore group. People forget that she started her channel back in 2011 to promote Red Handed Denial, a band that began as a technical metal unit and returned to their roots on 2019’s Redeemer LP. Tours of the USA were in the pipeline until Covid-19 grounded them in 2020 and saw the quintet reduced to a quartet after the departure of guitarist, Aleksei Perepelitsa. Now they have album number three ready for consumption, but would you rather be asleep or alive and just breathing?
Though Babic is a towering presence and commercial focal point for Red Handed Denial, it’s clear that lead guitarist Chris Misfud has as much say in their musical direction. If he had his way, this record would be a technical metal exercise to rival Misha Mansoor’s ten-volume Bulb project. This means that the drop-tuned seven-string guitars of Periphery and Veil of Maya dominate this record and ensure the album stays anchored to the heavy groove rhythms pioneered by Meshuggah. ‘Cloud 9’, is the type of song you want to open a metal album – it’s aggressive, muscular, and full of technical guitar contortions for the drummer to accent with double-kick drums. Lauren Babic has no trouble proving her capabilities with her extraordinary range of eye-bulging gutturals, ferocious hardcore screams, and stunning pop melodies. All are on display here and in follow up ‘Carbon Copies’, which mixes the complexities of the early Born of Osiris records with the menacing riffs of Fit for an Autopsy.
Of course, the only parts that will alienate a metal audience are the unashamed pop choruses and R&B harmonies inserted into the chunky metallic onslaught. ‘Fix Me’ starts with a dexterous chug riff smothered in the jagged wounds of mathcore, like Deadguy enjoying a makeover by Veil of Maya’s Marc Okubo. Pairing this with a typical audition chorus for American Idol is a difficult undertaking, and one the band enjoy. But you might be less enamoured. The three Spencers – Spencer Sotelo (Periphery), Spencer Charnas (Ice Nine Kills) and Spencer Chamberlain (Underoath) – are a big influence on Babic’s contrasting vocal dynamics throughout this record, but her crystal soprano range will remind you of Hayley Williams from Paramore in her poppier moments. The neck beards and metal gatekeepers will have good reason to dismiss Red Handed Denial as a metalcore band for teenagers and emo kids, but that would be a disservice to the excellent musicianship and heavy elements that refuse to be watered down in the mix. ‘Marked with a Curse’ is three minutes and fifty seconds of metallic savagery masquerading as modern rock. Don’t be fooled by the melodies – this is one for the mosh pit.
I’d Rather be Asleep has too much adrenaline to send you into a snooze. It also has a genuine classic in its ranks. ‘Father Said’ could be their best song yet, mixing the dense guitar weaving of Erra with a vintage R&B melody in the bridge. Babic’s heart-clutching chorus throbs with angst but glows with self-discovery. This is how you combine cutting edge pop with the heaviest of distorted grooves.
These days Red Handed Denial are too big to sign a record contract. They’d need to hand over a large percentage of their revenue streams if they agreed to a typical 360 deal. Why would they want to surrender this to the suits in the music industry when they already have a loyal audience and full control of their publishing rights, merch sales and touring income? This commercial freedom is just as important as their creative freedom and means they can tour with their idols in Protest the Hero as contemporaries. 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.
Release Date: 03/06/2022
Record Label: Self Released
Standout tracks: Carbon Copies, Father Said, White Water
Suggested Further Listening: Veil of Maya – Matriarch (2015), Periphery – Periphery III: Select Difficulty (2016), Ice Nine Kills – The Silver Scream (2018)