INTO THE DEEP – Blackfin

Featuring ex members of Pivot, Into The Deep are a metal band who centre their musical narratives around conservation, the ocean and its wildlife, and other nautical themes. It’s a more than admirable idea, and certainly makes a huge change from thrash and hardcore’s often clichéd anger. It’s a shame, then, that most of their lyrical content on ‘Blackfin’ remains largely inaudible to the untrained ear.

Between the massive riffs that power the title track, you’ll occasionally get a moment of clarity. On the chorus, the backing vocals mention “underwater” and something to do with swimming, and there are even briefer snatches of a message coming through the lead. A coherent narrative can be very hard to follow when frontman Michael Hembright seems intent on filling the bulk of the verses with what could be best described as amalgam of Randy Blyth and the more palatable end of Dez Fafara’s work with DevilDriver, so it’s actually best to try and concentrate on the music itself. Luckily, this is good. Very good, in fact. Following an impenetrable blast of hardcore, the body of the track shares a tightly wound riff that falls squarely between thrash and hardcore; their fierce tones sharing some of the best sounds in a post-Pantera, Lamb of God inspired landscape, whilst a shift towards something more Slayer inspired in a couple of places really captures the band’s ominous anger.

Unfortunately, from an accessibility viewpoint, on the heavy tracks, the vocals never really improve. Given time to adjust, purely from a stylistic perspective, Michael has a real presence and actually sounds a bit more natural, though. On ‘Sandblasted’, he roars against a huge, swaggering riff that’s more of a groove metal persuasion. As with the opener, this showcases a band who really know how to work a heavy sound, and between a chugging riff augmented by some very solid drumming, and a more melodic touch colouring the chorus as the vocals are joined by a siren like lead guitar, it quickly becomes a highlight. An unexpectedly melodic lead break brings something a little more old school to the table without slipping too far into trad metal territory, and a round of tribal drums beefing up the coda also helps to show that Into The Deep aren’t about to hack out variants of the same heavy tune every time.

For solid proof of their desire to drop different ideas into the mix, the brilliant ‘Seaweed’ could be the work of a different band entirely. The abrasive edge of Eric Hambright’s guitar tone has very clear links with fleeting moments during the previous tracks, but by reducing the tempo and trading in the aggressive metal for something that’s more of a grungy persuasion, he’s able to show off a very pleasingly retro sound. Michael’s vocals, too, take a massive swerve and he approaches the material in hand with a semi-deep croon, and it seems almost impossible that a band sounding so much like a blend of Days of The New and a very melodic stoner act are the same Into The Deep. This, of course, is a good thing. Bands should never get stuck in a rut, or merely churn out sounds their fan base are expecting, and in this case, it results in this release’s highlight, and during these few minutes, listeners can experience the trio experimenting with a world of mid-tempo, fuzzed out riffs and echoing vocals which sets up the perfect mood for this nautical warning, before extra vocal effects increase the tension. With no obvious changes until three quarters in, it solely depends on the chugging riff to maintain interest – which it does, admirably, without aiming for anything too dramatic – but the band clearly understand a little more is needed, and the final bars introduce extra speed, a sharper guitar tone calling back to a couple of other tracks and a tighter drum sound for a big finish.

The more aggressive coda on ‘Seaweed’ doesn’t quite make the shift back into heavier climes any less jarring, though. Even with ‘Spaceshark’ teasing with various surf rock guitar tones during a great intro, a move back into a groove metal/hardcore blend can be challenging if approached in the wrong mood. A huge array of shouty vocals – a classic hardcore growl for the lead, and strange black metal husk on back-ups – brings a double whammy of intensity throughout, and its left to Michael’s guitar work to beef up any actual melodies. As before, the tones are huge, but any lead work never really gets beyond the odd burst of noise. ‘Nothing’ fares better with a sharp mix of Lamb of God and Pantera influences driving a huge metallic juggernaut of sound, and is great when taken on face value, but could use a much bigger chorus hook. The shift from verse to chorus is really obvious since the music eases from a groove metal/hardcore blend into a harsher sound, but as with the opening number, any pointed environmental messages are buried within a world of dirty flotsam, before ‘Hammerhead’ rounds everything out with a mix of Lamb of God and mid period In Flames riffery, again, offset by an iffy vocal style. On its own, the track works fine, but played after at least three very similar sounding riff-heavy workouts, it cements how Into The Deep are adept with a great heaviness, but can be a little tiring if listened to for any length of time.

There are some strong musical ideas here; certainly enough for metal fans to enjoy, at least on a track by track basis, even if the bigger picture needs a little sharpening up. A detour into more melodic rock moods also suggests this trio are able to turn their hand to other rock styles with ease, and maybe should do so a little more often.. The bulk of Into The Deep’s musical aggression might not be a hundred percent original – or maybe even that original at all – but there’s little doubt that the band are really tight and more than capable of whipping up an impressively ferocious sound whenever needed. As mentioned, their melodic side is actually stronger, but if you’re happy to take ‘Blackfin’ purely on face value, there’s a reasonable amount of entertainment to be found, even if nothing reaches essential listening.

November/December 2023