Tracklist01. Where I Was
03. Stretching Arms, Shaking Hands
04. In Blight and Boast
05. The Undertow
06. My Absent Crown, My Diadem
08. Ashen, Pallid
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I’m not gonna lie, it’s getting tough to write album reviews after two years. I signed up to do it because I love music, and I wanted to be the one to tell people how great new albums were. Hell, I wanted to tell the bands how great they were. Every band who puts out a piece of art on what is essentially their dime and then supports it by traveling the country and playing it tirelessly deserves as many pats on the back as you can possibly muster.
The first major hurdle in reviewing albums is the first bad album. But I don’t mean laughably bad, where it offends you to a point that you can riff off how terrible it is and just smash it. Those reviews are kind of fun. I’m talking about a bland album that you don’t care about in the least. Those albums aren’t even fun to write about, and really, who’s going to read your review that consists of 2 stars and a shrug? And the truth of it is, as you continue to review new bands, month after month, chances are excellent that the bulk of albums you review is going to be those very albums, the ones you give a few stars and boot out the door. And suddenly you’re tired. All of your energy is sapped. Élan. Lassitude. Reviewing isn’t fun anymore. And to be honest, that’s pretty much where I am.
So how does Barrow fit into this?
Bands like Barrow are the reason that I still write reviews. Bands like Barrow release an album on December 20th and fuck with my end of the year top albums list. Bands like Barrow remind me that my real compensation here is discovering exceptional new music I would have otherwise never heard of. Bands like Barrow snag me after one listen, and immediately inspire me to find the nearest megaphone and proclaim to the world, “Fuck yeah, Barrow!”
I am so jealous of North Carolina’s music scene, which is absolutely stuffed with quality post-hardcore. Barrow are students of the school of Level Plane, and play a nostalgic brand of atmospheric, heart-wrenching screamo with perfectly foggy production values characteristic, maybe necessary, for the genre. The guitar tone is excellent. The bass is nut-rumbling. And the loose collection of vocals, both sung and screamed, complicated with a bevy of guest spots, is just deep enough in the mix to also serve as extra percussion during the most chaotic moments. Not that the genre ever died, but I fully support its revival that I’ve experienced this year.
Barrow are steeped in classic screamo titans like Envy and Funeral Diner for sure, but there’s also a definite sense of progression. In that way, Barrow feel current, with nods to a rich musical history. On top of the post-rocky atmosphere and emotive sections of European-twanged screamo, there are some pretty exceptional, vaguely Thrice-y sung parts, especially early on in 9-minute monolith, “An Absent Crown, My Diadem.” But that very same song has a brutal shouted part over a chunk of spacey drone which transitions into strings and dissonance. Barrow seem pretty adept at doing everything and making it all work. As for the album closer, “Ashen, Pallid”? It’s ludicrously good. Sick guest vocals, a wonderfully dark and crunchy bass tone, and then this crazy, cacophonic bridge section with distressed screams? Like delicious screamo candy.
I think the most remarkable thing about Being Without is that Barrow have incorporated so many styles of screaming: deep and gruff, high and distorted, gravelly, shouted; of singing: low and soulful, layers of harmonies, gangs; and musically, as atmosphere, as uncompromising heaviness, as smooth near-hymnals, as anthemic, driving charges—all of these disparate pieces fit snugly into a single musical style. The album never feels piecemeal or choppy. It does feel diverse and emotional, but always coherent. So if you’re looking for heavy with a side of heart, be sure to check out Barrow.