The Browning is one strange undertaking, to say the least. Since the release of their debut album Burn This World in 2011, band mastermind Jonny McBee has been on a relentless one-band mission to forge new ground in heavy music and be the first to strike the perfect balance between the most unlikely pairing of musical styles, metalcore and EDM. The band has seen some pretty chaotic times since then, having parted ways with their label Earache after the release of 2013’s Hypernova, not to mention a revolving-door cast when it comes to band members, where so far they’ve had eight separate departures from the group. Nevertheless, they’ve managed to forge ahead unfazed and return here with their third offering, Isolation; an album McBee says is “by far the best album The Browning has done yet”.
As an audience, this is not a promise we’ve never heard before; more than enough bands crow before release that their new stuff is the greatest thing they’ve ever touched, only to have them finally drop the album and crush their audience with some watered down, glossed-up version of their former glory. Thankfully though, in this instance I think McBee just might be right. On their previous efforts, I felt a lot of the electronic elements and passages from The Browning just clashed with the wall-to-wall metalcore breakdowns and energy, offering little cohesion to the proceedings. But here they really feel like they’ve found a way to present both of them together without having them fight each other. Take for instance the opener Cynica; eerie synth melodies creep out and put you at just that perfect level of unease before the band comes in like a ten ton weight to the chest with a wall of chug. Balancing their massive guitar sound with these almost operatic Hardstyle synth blasts, the sounds distort together to create an aura of pure menace before dropping the bottom out again and plummeting the track into breakdown hell. This is the way you make this insane idea of theirs work.
Tracks like the lead single ‘Pure Evil’, or the crushing ‘Vortex’ are another great example of the kind of clarity and focus here, showcasing some amazing production skills by letting these pumping EDM beats melt around half-beat breakdown passages – walking this super fine line between both styles – the entire track never letting either dominate. Another major step forward for The Browning is the use of space as a tension builder: some moments in Vortex, or tracks like the chug-fest ‘Fallout’ and the lurching ‘Pathologic’ can be so stripped back and sparse you can almost hear the pressure building like an additional instrument; a technique I’ve felt the band have sorely lacked up until this point.
Unfortunately though, while the band has finally managed to find a way to marry and present these styles they’ve been striving so hard to blend over these years, it feels like they haven’t put the same focus and energy into the actual songwriting part of their act. Sonically, everything is next level, and conceptually the band’s sound has never been so concise and cleverly constructed, but as far as the actual songs are concerned I can’t help but feel that the ideas being presented here are the exact same ideas the band presented on their debut, and again on their follow up, Hypernova. And while I can’t deny that Isolation offers a much more complete version of those ideas presented in a much more intricate and intriguing fashion, after five years and three albums there’s only so many ways a band can slice a breakdown before your interest is bound to wane. Unfortunately, the one time they really do manage to step out of the box on here is on ‘Disconnect’ where they invite guest rapper Frankie Palmeri of Emmure to spit some bars over their signature chug, giving those of us old enough more than our fair share of awful nu-metal flashbacks and offering one of the most cringe-worthy lyrics of McBee’s (or anybody’s) career – “I don’t want your fucking friend request, I’d rather put this knife into your neck you fucking bitch”. Yeesh. Better back off, I bet this guy packs a chainsaw (WHAT).
Despite those aforementioned hiccups though, The Browning have still managed to return with their best foot forward here and deliver their most creative, well-rounded and well-crafted album to date. On Isolation, they’ve pushed themselves further artistically than ever before and presented a package that truly does represent the sound they’ve been striving so hard to perfect, and considering the degree of difficulty for that undertaking, that is an achievement not to be sneezed at.
Isolation is out now via Spinefarm Records/Caroline Australia.