In the so-called nu deathcore movement, Sworn In operate similarly to 1999 Slipknot (despite their Linkin Park cover) by taking angst, melodrama and antisocial outlooks to the 200th degree. Their imagery and lyrics sometimes blur the lines between scary and goofy, but their 2013 opus Death Card proves how effective they can be.
2015’s The Lovers/The Devil succumbed to the low-brow hormonal tantrums that plagued nu metal 20 years ago and plagues nu deathcore now, leaving the band’s long-term legitimacy in doubt. Those who missed Death Card’s incredible catharsis can rejoice with the release of All Smiles — a glorious return to form sporting believable anger and imaginative songwriting.
“Make It Hurt” and “Don’t Look At Me” start the album off extremely strong with refreshing structures and a truly intense atmosphere. Unpredictable rhythm changes and feedback stabs are Sworn In’s bread and butter, and they tasteful use of it here. The former’s use of Marilyn Manson-esque croaks mesh well with Tyler Dennen’s usual high register while the later sports glitched up effects and staggered syncopation. Speaking of vocals, it seems that Dennen learned from his sophomore slump. No cliched “bleghs” or random expletives are found on this record, allowing his visceral delivery to speak for itself.
Both tracks sport the unhinged adolescent rage they popularized. “I want to watch you let me die” and “Like peeling off my skin, I’m begging you don’t look at me” will respectively become anthems for the disaffected, creating genuinely disturbing auras with the help of hair-raising soundscapes and guitarist Eugene Kamlyuk and bassist Derek Bolman riding the line between Slipknot’s Iowa and the darker side of modern metalcore.
The title track keeps the momentum by allowing Dennen to explore more of his singing range as drummer Chris George creatively leads the band from anthemically despondent choruses to learching djent-style verses, but this melodic emphasis plays out as a double-edged sword for the album’s emotional impact. While it works well in the aforementioned contexts, songs like “Helluputmethru” lose their ferocity as the chorus’s lyrics turn from intense to laughably whiny.
“Cry Baby,” ironically, shows how Sworn In can harness those same elements and create a memorably anguished environment without having to pander to the least common denominator of emotion. Though fans of more nuance might still have gripes with their approach, Dennen shrieking “I fucking love living in hell” over crushing chugs and horrific ambience could go down as one of the year’s most hau nting moments in metalcore.
Death Card stands the test of time because of how well it works as a concept album about self-destruction, mental illness, and death. All Smiles functions more as a collection of separate ideas, which allows it to avoid the pitfall of The Lovers/The Devil — which tried too hard to ride its predecessor’s wave of success.
Of course, this means each song needs to stand on its own merits, something Sworn In obviously understands as evidenced by the interesting turns this album takes. “Mirror Fear” keeps the curveballs coming via propulsive, funky groove contrasted with seismic subtone bottom string abuse. This contrast between energetic rhythm and slowburn soundscapes plays out beautifully in “Puppeteer’s” rhythmic bursts over a tension-filled ominous backdrop.
As the third single from the album, “Dread All” sports its own unique vibe. Clean vocals take a more low-key atmospheric turn, leaving more room for shrill feedback stabs and George’s evolving rhythm changes to keep the song from falling into tired thug-and-chug. Amazingly, “Closer To Me” and “Cross My Heart” actually close out the album with comparable songwriting chops. Additional vocal inflections, hard-hitting grooves and a return to alien atmospheres keep this album consistent as an example of nu-deathcore done write.
Those who think this subgenre is cringy probably won’t change their mind about Sworn In after hearing All Smiles. This music is shamelessly hyperbolic and owns the fact that their fan base are the “cry babies” — those carrying more emotion than they know that to do with. This is what nu deathcore is for, and few bands do it better than Sworn In.