If Hope Dies - Life In Ruin - Ironclad Recordings / Metal Blade Records 2006
Running Time: 36:41
Aaah, Auburn, New York. Home of the Auburn Doubledays, birthplace of the inventor of the fire hydrant, and MANOWAR. Actually, as it turns out, this small town has cranked out more than its share of revolutionary ideas and persons, leading one to believe that there may, in fact, be something in the water. I could turn this review into a history lesson, but why bother? It would serve only to bore you, and further cement my reputation as Eternal Keeper Of The Worthless Knowledge. Thus, I digress. If Hope Dies sprung from the fertile womb of this area with Siege For Spiritual Decline in 2002, via indie imprint Diehard Records, quickly making to jump to Trevor Phipps' (Unearth) Ironclad Recordings for The Ground Is Rushing Up To Meet Us, and now for the mercifully-abbreviated title, Life In Ruin.
'Burned Out' bursts forth with turbines churning, If Hope Dies making like Pantera for all they're worth, until the obligatory breakdown kicks in, only to quickly return to a full-on rant against smoking/drinking. The vocals stand out, which, in this case is both good and bad. Thankfully devoid of faux gang vocals, the band relies on Alan French's Rottweiler bark to carry much of the songs. While French is admittedly not at his best when utilizing his singing voice ('Anthem For The Unemployable'), it's his coarse straightforward bellow that gives If Hope Dies a good bit of their identity, and shows that the band is at least making an effort to not fall in line with the packs of roving Kloneswitch Engages currently clogging the pipes. 'Time Is Not On Our Side' stomps and swaggers, Gary Mann's thundering bass providing a solid foundation for the leads (Fuck! A metalcore band with leads?!), the latter making the breakdowns placed intermittently through the album much more bearable. I'll admit it's good to hear a band on Metal Blade using breakdowns (remember when they were called riffs?) as background scenery and not space filler. French turns in possibly his best performance in the anti-propaganda 'Fear Will Keep Them In Line', which sees some passable dual attacks from the Jackson/Ward guitar team. If pressed, I'd place If Hope Dies slightly more on the metal side of the fence than the hardcore. More Shadows Fall, less Strife, if you would, especially in 'The Ultimate Nullifier', which keeps the pedal to the metal, excepting a momentary HC guitar pattern at song's end. Brandon Wakeham - much like labelmates The Classic Struggle's Tyler Solnosky - isn't shy about peppering his drumming with straight up rock beats ('Marked For Death'), which, expectedly, he carries on through 'Some Skynyrd'. One of the disc's high points is the production, courtesy of Jason "Murderball" Suecof, which I'm sure contributed to the rugged sound of If Hope Dies, so that even when shooting for melody (as in the title track finale), the band remains as dangerous in tone as at the beginning of the album.
I'm not about to say that If Hope Dies are breaking any new ground with Life In Ruin, but they're damn sure a more interesting listen than the majority of what falls under the absurd genre classification known as metalcore. If their energy carries over into the live arena, If Hope Dies may just be worth keeping an eye on. This'll show up in my stereo again, no doubt.