The sign above the gate reads “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Staring down the precipice, into a sprawling, fathomless chasm which practically reeks of despair, you know it – you are here: Hell. While daunting and dismal, you can’t help but feel the cool, smooth wave of relaxation – mixed with the prick and tingle of awe – run down your spine. In just about every way, Hell feels more like a home than the world you’ve left behind. Similarly to this arrival at the gates of your long awaited “home, sweet home,” Sworn In’s debut full length, The Death Card, greets the listener with open arms. Their mastery of progressive yet dissonant metalcore forces you not just to become bitter, but rather to sacrifice your sanity – and whatever hope you had of regaining it – completely. The Death Card is packed with brooding, misanthropic themes and an incredible blend of backbreaking brutality and jaw-dropping technicality. Long awaited and tirelessly promoted and hyped, staring down The Death Card is akin to looking into the gates of Hell; however, once the first step is made, you’ll find the same hair-raising, spine-tingling sensation racing from head to toe – the same feeling of awe and mind-warping immersion. Without further adieu, your journey through Hell has begun.
The Hell you are greeted with is divided into several subsections – rings, if you will – which add to its intricacy. The same can be said for Sworn In’s debut album, and the first section is comprised of rings which house the guiltless damned, the lustful and the gluttonous. Those who succumbed to lust are punished by a constant, vicious storm battering them back and forth against the jagged walls of their prison, while the gluttonous are torrentially stormed upon by a bitter, putrid sludge. The Death Card’s opening tracks, “Hypocrisy” and “Dead Soul” especially, force this same relentless storm upon the listener. The jarring fretwork behind “Hypocrisy” cuts at the listener’s bones and slices at their flesh with all the fury one would expect of a tornado born in Hell. Lacerating, razor-sharp harmonics and riffs rip the listener’s skin wide open, only for the hate-filled lyrics and visceral, intense vocals to pour salt and sulfur onto the wound. Furthermore, “Dead Soul” is a grimy and crunchy track which soaks the listener to the bone with dissonant, hard-hitting harmonies that grind their eardrums into dust, constantly demoralizing them. By the time “Senseless” arrives, and the first leg of your journey through Hell is complete, you are left sliced, sore and soaked to the bone – craving nothing more than to continue through this torture you deserve.
The second layer of the spoiled onion that is Hell is comprised of rings housing those guilty of heresy, greed and anger. This layer is divided by the murky waters of the river Styx – where those who were bitter and angry are forced to fight on the surface, and the losers are forced to sink below the surface. On either side lays the greedy and the heretics, who are forced to rest in beds of flame. As logic would indicate, the brief reprieve that is “Senseless” serves only as a transition from heavy to heavier. “A Song for the Nameless,” The Death Card’s first single, is relentless not in the traditional, chug-ridden and down-tempo sense, but in its fearsome speed and absolutely devastating lyrical content. Tyler Dennen lets lose with some of the most personal lyrics the listener will have had the joy of hearing, and the track as a whole flows with a thrashy, break-neck hardcore pace that never seems to slow down. Once “Snake Eyes” and “Deadpan” arrive, though, that changes. Metallic, hooky riffs which were prevalent on “A Song for the Nameless” are swapped out for eviscerating, prolapse-inducing breakdowns and jarring tempo changes which drown the listener in dense, suffocating heaviness. Likewise, the lyrics go from personal and catchy to devastating and misanthropic – all while retaining their penchant for the poetic. “Snake Eyes” ends with a groove which snakes its way into the listeners head and ignites itself, starting a fire so fierce it feels as if it was spawned in the very depths of Hell. “Deadpan, is similar, but is home to an ethereal, subtle interlude which makes its climactic vocal attack even more effective. Drowned, burned and broken, “Mute” serves only as to ferry you into the next – and final – subsection of Hell.
“Three Cheers” welcomes you into the first of the three most violent and devastating forms of punishment you will ever encounter. Here lie the violent, fraudulent and treacherous. The violent are condemned to a fate of slow, but sure destruction – the re-doing and undoing of a lifetime of cruelty. “Three Cheers,” another single off of The Death Card, is – without a doubt – one of the most relentless. With an incredibly dynamic and intense array of vocal and instrumental onslaughts, the means by which the listener meets their fate is reciprocal of their punishment in Hell: varied. Absolutely pounding and pummeling percussion beats at them as if a jackhammer set ablaze, while vicious, lacerating vocals immerse them in a pool of boiling blood – the very same blood which gives “Bitter Blood,” and the following track titled “Death” their driving force. These two tracks work as one to mimic the ring of hell reserved for the fraudulent. Whether drowned in human feces or split in twain, it doesn’t matter; if you weren’t on death’s doorstep before “Death” begins, you will certainly be there once it is complete. “Bitter Blood” and “Death” use lyrics reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe to drive the grinding, nu-metal inspired instrumentation like nails into the listener’s coffin. While every track on The Death Card stands out in some way, these two are likely the most efficient one-two punch of creative destruction the album – and the genre – have to offer.
This leaves only one ring left: the home of the traitorous. This is “Return (Heartless),” which houses a lake of ice and, in it, all those who betrayed you. This is your reason for visiting Hell – the driving force for your journey and the wind in your sails. Here lie your friends, your family and everything familiar about your old life. This is your punishment. You are whisked back to the very place you tried so desperately to escape. “Return (Heartless)” traps the listener in a cage of decimating heaviness and gyrating grooves that refuses to relinquish them. To be perfectly blunt, “Return (Heartless)” is the perfect climax to an otherwise perfect album – its placement is poetic and its purpose is clear.
Having journeyed through the place you thought you would be calling home, you are left at the end of the road broken, battered, bruised and worst of all, betrayed. It comes in a moment of clarity: this is your Hell. You are forced to journey back through these rings endlessly, suffering every punishment only to find you are destined for nothing but the same result. The Death Card is no different; each listen wears the listener down to the bone, blistering flesh and bending the mind, but delivering the same absolute astonishment, with twists and turns that fail to get old, even after hundreds of listens.
For Fans Of: Barrier, Kingmaker, The Last Ten Seconds of Life