By blending the best elements of Bullet For My Valentine, All That Remains and Shadows Fall with the kind of very commercial choruses championed by Killswitch Engage, this Florida metalcore/post-hardcore based band may not sound wholly original, but there’s no escaping that, in places, A Vital Message manage to push all the right buttons on their 2011 EP.

The strength of this EP isn’t immediately obvious, however, since opening the number attempts to fit too much into a four minute package. After a melody filled intro featuring a simple guitar riff played over some solid pneumatic drums, the first half of ‘The Blind’ favours djent-edged riffs, leading to an all round preference for heaviness over anything else. As is often the case with metalcore, the chorus eschews growling voices for a studio treated clean vocal. This provides a nice contrast (as expected) but that chorus isn’t quite as strong as it could have been – any melodies are still being somewhat pummelled by the heavy riffs. The riffs are cool enough, but there’s a sense that A Vital Message are capable of more. Luckily, during the track’s second half, things definitely improve. A brief instrumental break lightens the mood near at the tracks end; the second part of which capitalises on the melodies hinted at in the intro and the clean guitars ring out wonderfully, in a style that hints at a more progressive metal stance. And then, just as the tune begins to pull the listener in…it ends. Don’t be fooled, though: this is by no means a bad opening statement – the musicians here are as tight as any of those working in a similar field, it just leaves a nagging feeling that the chorus could have been more instant and so much more should have been made of that intro and coda.

In terms of aggression, ‘Who Are You’ fares better all round, since the gulf between sledgehammer riffs and melodies is far wider. During the verses, Jon Jordan adopts a full-on throatiness in his delivery, one to match any number of hardcore punk or metal bands. As he offers the thought “are you running, you should be fucking scared” over a mid-paced, pounding riff, the intensity is such you’d have a hard job to argue with him. The fastest riffing, again, has much in common with the djent community and the chorus adds a more melodic bent, full of clean vocals and an emo-ish anxiety. Unlike ‘The Blind’, this chorus really shines – so much so, it’s hard to believe these guys weren’t snapped up by a major label for this release.

‘If It’s Legal It’s On Camera’ starts with a great intro, combining more clean-toned guitar lines and a slower djent-filled metallic riff. There’s a brief moment where Jordan teases by throwing in a dirty, dirty growl in the melodic death metal vein, but this never fully develops; it merely serves as a bridge into the song’s first verse. While this doesn’t offer anything markedly different from ‘Who Are You’, it’s worth keeping a keen ear, as complex guitar parts busy away incessantly – almost throughout the entire number – and these parts (again, borrowing influence from more math metal/progressive metal influences) provide a superb counterpart to the more in-your-face elements. The chorus follows a similar structure to that of ‘Who You Are’, whereby the studio-treated vocals bring a strong sense of melody and commercial edge to another otherwise sledgehammer riff. Although each of these EP tracks have their own strengths and weaknesses, this number is almost perfect. If you want to experience A Vital Message at their absolute best, this is the best entry point.

The closing track, ‘2009’, presents a slight musical curveball. While the heavy riffing and drum pedals are present and correct in places, the band shifts from their usual metalcore sound into a much punkier territory, and increases their use of clean vocals (more so than even on the other numbers, reinforced by a second clean voice courtesy of Ashley Loyd). It couldn’t ever be described as throwaway, but there’s certainly a more fun air here. A Vital Message still sound like a strong outfit here, but musically it’s nowhere near as insistent as this band are capable of being.

When A Vital Message get it right, the combination of great musicianship and faultless production (so good that other DIY bands should take note) is definitely worthy of much bigger things. Those who don’t dig any of the bands mentioned here are unlikely to be swayed, but metalcore fans really ought to check this out. ‘If It’s Legal…’ is worth the time alone.

February/March 2012