Every band needs to grow; to move forward and mature. This is even true of any smart thinking extreme metal band. In the case of Ontario’s Eaten By Sharks, the musical shift between their 2019 EP ‘We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat’ and 2022’s ‘Eradication’ isn’t just a natural progression, but a seismic leap.
They’ve held on to their great heaviness – that was always going to be the case – but on the bulk of the material that makes up this second release, they’ve traded in some of their harsher traits in favour of a more melodic death metal approach, and a vastly improved production job allows for a much broader vocal throughout the seven tracks. This doesn’t mean they’ve wimped out or even sold out in any way, since the material is still cut from some brilliantly uncompromising riffs. It’s just a little more mature, in a good way. Unless you’re one of those narrow minded extreme metal fans who want everything to stay truly marginal, it would be hard to argue against any of these changes being for the better.
The fact that this record sounds more expensive is clear from the outset, when the opening riffs of ‘Shallow Water’ hit with a mid tempo chug and twin lead sound reminiscent of classic Lamb of God, before dropping into a groove-death metal hybrid that brings out a fantastic downtuned guitar sound. Adding a few pneumatics for an unshakable melodic death metal root, the tune crosses a couple of boundaries of extreme metal even before the vocal arrives, and that voice does plenty to add to the tension. The deep tones courtesy of frontman Matt Sherriff mixes a doomy, classic death growl with a few hardcore elements for a strong balance of intense sounds, but when dropping into a few faster passages, he brings back a little more of the classically “death oriented” approach from the previous release. The rest of the band, too, seem keen to mix things up, with huge passages of intensive groove metal colliding with instrumental bridges where a little tech-death accentuates their more progressive side. Overall, the number seems a little more concerned with massive riffs and oppressive moods than an actual song, but for fans of the style, it certainly sets everything off with confidence.
‘Dead Weight’ opens with a barrage of riffs that combine speed and precision, only to take a Fantomas approach and stop dead after a couple of bars. This process repeats with the guitars taking on different atonal angles, pushing forth the Sharks’ tech-death influences, and the sheer tightness is impressive even before taking on board any of the musical aspects. As the number progresses (no pun intended), there’s a greater concern with melodies, as an insanely heavy chug introduces more of a traditional prog metal slant in line with the heaviest moments of Periphery. When pushing guitarists Chris Chaperon and Dan Okowinsky into the spotlight in this way, the band have the greatest chance of breaking through to those looking for something a little more accessible, but since this track quickly slinks back into a world of jagged complexities driven by harsh death infused vocals, it’s clear that nobody is hankering after any genuine commercialism. As before, the playing is incredibly tight, and although Sharks’ three or four main influences sometimes sound obvious, the way they use them is especially impressive.
Moving into the meat of the release, ‘Kill & Consume’ blends thrash with a semi-screeched vocal with traces of hardcore, before arriving at a full scale death metal hook where the rhythmically taut and the relentlessly pneumatic is king. A call and response between screechy and guttural vocals increases tension, but if anything leaves a lasting impression, its the way drummer Justin Whitehead uses his bass drums to bolster a heavy guitar chug, drawing from early 90s Meshuggah. The band obviously can’t keep up this kind of tension forever, and a slow passage invokes a trace of classic Slayer to underscore an ugly string-bent solo, before dropping into a classic hardcore-death metal blend to drive home a great riff to close. Without missing a beat, ‘Same Face, Different Mask’ introduces some superb hardcore breakdowns, capturing the band’s mid-tempo sledgehammer sound perfectly, before shaking the foundations with weird tech-death flourishes that shift the tempo back and forth really uneasily, yet at the same time, really show off an ability to keep things really tight. Chris drops aggressive lead guitar runs over a set of stop-start mechanics; bassist Tyler Abrams adds a deep bottom end throughout that always adds to an already oppressive heaviness, and eventually – shifting between the complex mechanics and a crushing doom/groove sound – the band truly unleash a strong feeling of unease. If you ever wondered what it might be like if members of Lamb of God jammed with Animals As Leaders and Gojira, chances are it might sound something like this… As before, the finer points of the lyric will almost certainly be lost in translation, but in terms of music – and musical abilities – this is top drawer metal.
A little more melodic in places, ‘Depth Charge’ centres around a far purer groove metal influence, but even then, there are moments when the band’s extreme interests cut through in the vocal department, adding a few pure death grunts to a finely curated riff. If it weren’t clear enough before, Chris and Dan’s mastery of said riffs is as tight as any major band you’d care to name, and when finally steering everything into a world of pneumatic noise where the metal adopts an almost hardcore punk aesthetic, the hard edged guitar lines sound superb. Even when approaching the end of the album, the band never take time to reflect. The final pairing of ‘Apex Predator’ and ‘Megalodon’ brings even more interesting riffs via a solid melodic death groove on the former, which is the perfect compliment to a lead sound which appears to add a siren-like sense of dread beneath scratchy vocals. There are some fine nods to classic thrash beneath a hardcore chug during ‘Megalodon’ which, again, could pull in a few old school ears, but it quickly gives way to a perfect groove metal/tech/prog melee where Chris’s love of the complex shines above an intensely heavy rhythm. As the track reaches its inevitable climax, Matt reaches within for one of the biggest death infused growls ever, and another haunting lead guitar break hammers home the ominous message within another semi-audible lyric. If you’ve stuck with Eaten By Sharks this far, you’re guaranteed to love this, even if it isn’t “everyday listening”.
According to the band, this half-hour song cycle is a concept piece looking at the “feelings of fear after sharks infiltrate the peoples’ world”. An uncompromising tale indeed, but for those not keen to get hung up on a narrative of any kind, the material still work brilliantly in isolation, and in terms of extreme metal, this is a really solid work. Granted, the vocals will be off-putting to some, but in terms of pure heaviness and brutalist riffs, Eaten By Sharks hit the mark in an exceptional way throughout this second release. It won’t be for everyone, but for those looking for a superb alternative to Meshuggah and Decapitated, there’s definitely plenty here to entertain.