The most important metal band of the last three years achieved the type of breakthrough most artists can only imagine in an alternative reality. Upon release in 2021, Eternal Blue stormed into the top 20 charts in Canada, America, Australia, Germany, and the UK and received unanimous critical acclaim. Scream Blast Repeat joined in the praise, declaring the group’s debut album ‘a major triumph for them and for the future of metal as a relevant artistic movement in pop culture.’ They followed it with numerous world tours; cover shoots for Metal Hammer and Revolver; and annual merch sales said to be worth over a million dollars in gross revenue. Clearly, Spiritbox carry the hopes of mainstream metal on their shoulders. It might also explain why their new six-track EP feels so safe.
Last year’s Rotoscope maxi-single suggested the band might be heading in a more industrial direction without abandoning their prog metal leanings and luscious sense of melody. The Fear of Fear will disappoint those that enjoyed this subtle change of direction. You might even wonder if this is a collection of leftover songs from the Eternal Blue sessions. The opening pedal distortion effects in ‘Cellar Door’ imitate the sound of moaning elephants as Courtney LaPlante pushes the limits of her belting technique far into deathcore territory. Despite this, it reminds you how much this band draw from Periphery for their heavier textures. Fortunately, Spiritbox are not short of imagination here, second-guessing your speculations with a monstrous guitar breakdown for the chorus and a charade of extended leg stomps in the middle-eight. Courtney could add sprinkles of melody as easily as a bartender adds vodka to a cocktail, but she chooses to stay in killer mode for the entirety of the song. It’s a wise choice.
You’ll feel like you have your head in the clouds and your stomach in the grip of a bear on follow-up ‘Jaded’. This gives the best snapshot of Spiritbox as a distinctive artist. All the elements are here – the switch from the scarred melodic voice to the throat-ripping roars, the memorable chorus, the stray from melancholy introspection to superhuman rage in the mid-section. It can stand next to any of the classic singles in their discography, like ‘Blessed Be’ or ‘Rule of Nines’. “And I’ve always been ashamed that I wanna fall into a dream with my honour desecrated,” pines Courtney in the chorus. How much of this is cryptic wordplay is up to you, but she delivers it with the charisma of a generational icon.
Unfortunately, things go downhill from track number two. The guitars in ‘Too Close / Too Late’ languish like a pleasant cherry fragrance as Courtney envelops you in a solipsistic daydream. The song structure and dynamics are as predictable as a Greenland chill. Would we enthuse about this if a male singer subjected us to this type of anodyne alternative rock? ‘The Void’ is just as underwhelming. Each release from this band seems to bring a corresponding decline in the imagination of the guitar work. This song thrives on memorable vocal lines and an advanced grasp of melody, but the guitars glide through the mix like butterflies in a protected habitat.
An unwelcome question hovers in your head throughout this record: Why does this EP saunter with a curious lack of energy? Even the heavier compositions feel like a simulated flight over the Pacific Ocean rather than a real passenger journey with a captain at the helm. It makes sense to place the harshest song at track four, and ‘Angel Eyes’ would not be out of place on a Fit for an Autopsy record. But it recycles the outro riff from their 2019 single, ‘Bleach Bath’, and ends up lost among the seeds of European metalcore (see Ten56, thrown, Glassbone, etc.) You expect better from a forward-thinking prog metal band.
Spiritbox are unique. They’re a heavy band that can write serious alternative pop music for those with sophisticated tastes. Could a Carly Rae Jepson fan enjoy closing song, ‘Ultraviolet’? Yes, they could, but flirting with a sedate version of Björk and wrapping it in the innocuous shoegaze distortion of the early 1990s will lose the interest of those that started their love affair with this band after hearing ‘Belcarra’ and ‘Holy Roller’.
Is the “difficult second album” curse an irrational fear or a real threat to the Spiritbox momentum? On the evidence of this EP, it could be the latter.
Release Date: 03/11/2023
Record Label: Pale Chord / Rise Records
Standout tracks: Cellar Door, Jaded
Suggested Further Listening: Curve – Public Fruit EP (1992), Vexed – Culling Culture (2021), Ithaca – Trespassers (2015)