Review || Obey The Brave - "Balance"

Canadian hardcore heavyweights Obey The Brave are releasing their fourth studio album, "Balance", on July 19th. It comes almost two years after "Mad Season", which was likely their most eventful (and impressive) album to date. If you know me, you know that album instantly grew on me and is still featured regularly in my playlists -and late night dancing sessions around the living room. To say that my expectations for the band's next step were high would be an understatement. 

Since the release of the first single, "No Apologies", the reactions went beyond mixed; they were fully polarized. Many long-time fans were disheartened by the switch to a more melodic path, while others (myself included) defended the band's right to naturally grow and evolve. The most common misconception was that the Canadians "pulled a While She Sleeps" with the new material. Possibly quoting drummer Stevie Morotti, "nah fam", they didn't. And I will explain why.

"Balance" marks the organic growth of Obey The Brave. Following the departure of guitarist John Campbell and bassist Cory Wilson, it would seem that the odds were against the three remaining members (vocalist Alex Erian, guitarist Terry McAuley and drummer Stevie Morotti). Probably not for the first time either. "Mad Season" saw the band experimenting with new elements (melodies, less breakdowns, cleaner singing) and it inevitably raised the question about their future musical direction. "Balance" toned down the experimentation part and established a very clear and specific structural path.

Kicking off with the mission statement track of the band, "No Apologies", we immediately notice the link between the "Mad Season" and the new material -plus a bigger chorus, perfectly fit for a singalong as our recent experience at Impericon festivals proved. The recipe doesn't really change for the following 8 tracks, where balance pun intended is actually very artfully kept. The compositions display to a great extent the ferocious side and dgaf attitude of the band we grew accustomed to, with neck breaking riffs, sometimes laced with beautiful guitar work (prime examples to that being the final third of "Reality Check" and the intro of "Smoke Signals" which has a strong metalcore vibe). Then you have a fully punk rock approach to the more melodic parts; smart hooks, big choruses and chatchy singalongs, all enrobed in upbeat rhythms. If you've been following OTB's catalogue, you know there's always a french song somewhere in the tracklisting -usually what I'm looking forward to. When "Calmer Le Jeu" starts, it playfully winks at the old bangers but still sounds fresh and in line with the rest of the album.

Now, let's address the whole "new direction" thing for a second. I have thoroughly discussed my opinion on shifting sound and creative opportunism in general so I won't get into that here. The issue with music fans, when it comes to Obey The Brave, is that there's no middle ground; people either love them or hate them. Period. The Canadians have proven time and time again that they are among the best bands in their scene (aside from their discography, their live shows are a testament to that) yet they are collectively underrated and treated as the underdogs, even after all these years of activity. It would be just as easy for them to continue building the "Young Blood" legacy, essentially releasing the same album with different production every couple of years, as it would be writing a full blown, generic and uninspired metalcore album appealing to fans' teenage angst. In either scenario, people would fervently critique the hell out of it. The crucial difference is that OTB has always remained true to their core and, in a quite honest way, they aren't trying to be another band. Some melodic elements have always been present in their sound, so why does it bother their audience so badly that they try to accentuate another equally vital part of their sound and still have fun in the process? They know they can't please everyone but they instead choose to grow into a truer form of themselves and at the end of th day, that's what matters most. If I'm being honest, "Balance" feels like a serendipitous "fuck you" to naysayers. 

Overall, "Balance" is founded on simplicity; nothing feels over the top and every little detail is carefully crafted. What I do appreciate in Obey The Brave is their persistence; even when they can't seem to catch a break, they never let their spark or creativity die and that is truly remarkable. It is understandable that the turn they have established may not be everyone's cup of tea. Regardless, we should all acknowledge the effort, the dedication, the hardships and the aggression that went into it. It is as solid as it should be, and still manages to maintain the best of both worlds.

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