Welcome back, you couldn’t resist. Yes, I did the cheesy thing and opened my review with a line from the album. I don’t care. This album is absolutely incredible to go ahead and put that out there. Beartooth’s fourth full length album Below has them back, better, and eviler than ever. It is a dark album that was written during the absolute roller coaster of a dark time for everyone, 2020.
On this album, every element gleams and shines through in its own way that is discernible. It was not thrown together in a mishmash of electronic mumbojumbo. The entire album is unnerving and a driving unapologetic force. When you think you’ve got the sound down, it takes a slight curve you didn’t see coming, but is not unwelcome either. There’s always something lurking to blow your metaphorical socks off. Frontman Caleb Shomo’s vocals have never sounded more confident and tormented all in one. The drums are ruthless, the guitars are relentless, the bass is demanding.
Without going too much into the background and creation of the album, it is safe to say it is an amazing time capsule of the anger, turmoil, hopelessness, and every day fight many people felt during this insane time. The songs are heavy both musically and lyrically, but Shomo has said in interviews and live on his twitch channel that on this album the songs are going to be more left up to the listener’s interpretation rather than the lyrics and meaning explained to them. The listener can tell as tight as the album is, there is a freedom within it. As much as there is a clear struggle and fight, it is a fight to get through that struggle, to damn the torpedoes and come out on the other side. Each song is like a dropkick to the face, and while I could wax poetic about how succinct and fresh every track is, instead I want to explore some key moments and feelings that stuck out to me on this album.
Starting with the intro track of “Below”, you couldn’t have asked to have a better track to blast you into what this album is all about. This track doesn’t just drop you into Beartooth’s world, it sends you flying down *excuse the pun* below, smacking face first with no mercy. There is no time to rest.
“Devastation”, the very next track, has the feeling of that point one can reach where you’re so stressed out with everything around and inside you, you just become somewhat zen while also feeling completely on edge. It is temporarily contained rage, waiting to burst out.
“Fed Up” is the song equivalent of being snatched back by the collar of your shirt. As a person with ADHD, for me, this song is the rage that can come with sensory overload. Not to mention the lyrics I find which sum up a common feeling with how used to chaos we’ve gotten in 2020, “I never want peace, I thrive in the panic!” A music video equivalent might be throwing everything away, phone over the shoulder into the dirt, breaking a mirror, and taking off spinning tires down a dirt road in a muscle car.
“Dominate” struck me with the essence of someone trying to live a normal life with various, potentially mental, issues and facing them mostly as a private battle. But then the person begins seeing them getting put into perspective in the real world along with others and how their seemingly “normative” behavior deviates from the way the person copes with their problems. This of course, causes frustration and further struggle in the self. There’s incredible audio here with the guitars giving the feeling of bugs crawling up your skin with constant uneasy jitteriness.
“Skin” is a brutally honest, arteries deep, powerful cry about insecurities that might quite honestly leave you in tears like it did to me. It is a raw confession not only out loud, but more importantly, to the inner self. It’s a great vocalization of the isolation that can come with insecurities, looking around at people who seem to have it figured out, while battling it out inside one’s own head. The track is full of raging tension, fighting to break out away from itself, and is extremely catchy.
“Hell Of It” is like having an exasperated conversation with yourself in a mirror about your problems in some abandoned building you stormed off to, then being chased down a hallway in that building and seemingly surrounded by your own demons in black cloaks taking you on an evil trip as the bridge hits, a-la evil A Christmas Carol style. It is a fist-slamming against a table, yelling at the self as much as it is at the world. The guitars and bass in the chorus sound as if they are hovering over your shoulders, just behind your back, keeping watch and getting closer. It’s a heavy, enraging vibe.
The Answer is probably the most underrated track on this entire album, though it seems to be quickly becoming a Toof fan favorite. This song is absolutely beautiful from start to finish. After having been thrashed all over town with the rest of this album, the start to this song is simple and ear ear catching. It pulls the listener in as Caleb’s vocals are given room to break in, bringing in the flood with it. Then, just as you expect to be carried away, the waves smooth out. The lyrics are given space to shine through as softly sincere with hidden years of frustration behind them, letting listeners get the full emotion of the piece. As the chorus kicks in, the wave is brought back, and the vocals show the frustration alongside the track, building and building until there’s a near, or some might say, total breakdown into a broken confession. The vocal outro pleading “I’m crumbling under the pressure” never fails to give me literal goosebumps. If you’ve seen the movie The High Note, it’s like the song sang by the artist at the end (no spoilers), after many events in her life. In short, it is totally honest catharsis.
“The Last Riff” – Black Sabbath fans, and anyone really, lend me your ears. This is the best song on the album. It has no lyrics, but it doesn’t need any to tell a story. It’s so cinematic. It’s like a panorama of a scene outside. A pan down to a pair of battered boots and feet limping, dragging as they stomp towards something, weakly but defiantly. The drumbeats… And then it pans up and we see a person who looks like they got hit by a truck. Real messed up. Bleeding from the mouth, bruised and bloody. Worn out but determined and pissed off. And then they look up and we get one of those shots where it’s as if someone escaping to the outside for the first time or waking up outside where the cameras slightly below chin level looking up with them at the sun. Then, there’s like a lens flare around the top of their head, showing their face and sun in the same shot. They look back, and the camera pans around to show a destroyed city or something similar.. then they begin storming away from it. It’s easy to tell it’s the end of one thing and the start of another. It’s an incredible outro track to a journey of an album. If you’re a fan of Beartooth’s live version of King of Anything in Columbus, take a listen to the end of the song where Caleb is riffing, then listen to this song, see if you find any possible similarities…Something to think about.
If you’ve never checked out Beartooth before, this is a great starting place. This album is essential Toof, what it’s all about. Exploring personally and creatively, capturing moments in time and being honest about them. Being honest about the struggle and struggling to fight through. Fighting through and being able to stand proud you did. It doesn’t mean there’s a clear finish line, there rarely is, but its more about learning to live the best you can every day, no matter what. No song is the same, and each has their own vibe with tiny surprises in store. This is a can’t miss album for any fan, potentially new or old.