To anyone who has recently heard the new Sworn In record, The Lovers/The Devil, you may be asking yourself “What the hell did I just listen to?” And this is a pretty standard reaction as many of the tracks on the quintet’s sophomore effort are pretty much collections of not-so-collaborative noise. After the great success of their debut full-length, The Death Card, this shift from “emocore” to experimental melodic metal(ish) collage-djent (yes, that is a mouthful just as much as an earful) felt almost disappointing and out of place for the band.
A couple weeks back I cited Sworn In as one of the bands you need to know based mainly off of their highly innovative efforts on The Death Card, or XIII, depending on how you want to read it. It’s a fantastic album that carries a distinct sound throughout the entire work, but is filled to the brim with dynamic and out of the box rhythmic patterns over strange chord progressions and an intense use of distortion pedals. It’s what I imagine broken hearted spoken word in a dive bar would sound like if suddenly Rise Records wanted to remix it. While it’s definitely a little bizarre, it’s also incredibly intense and highly enjoyable. So when The Lovers/The Devil dropped and I couldn’t understand my own disappointment in their strange, new musical direction, I had to take a step back and ask myself, “Have Sworn In gone crazy or are they really just musical geniuses no one understands?”
When it comes to art and music, where do we find the exact divider? In fact, is there even a dividing line or is music simply a form or “genre” of art? And if so, is art all encompassing of “the arts” and thus not solely focused on the major artistic media such as painting, sculpting, and drawing?
Okay, so where is all of this philosophical stuff coming from that sounds like the beginning of a bad 101 class in college? And why am I asking so many goddamn questions?
Well, that’s kind of the point. When you listen to a great record, not just a good record, you want the music to challenge you. This is why listening to albums like Stick To Your Guns‘ Disobedient will always hold more of an impact than listening to Falling In Reverse‘s Just Like You. While FIR may have catchy and even danceable riffs and hooks, STYG are preaching lyrics with a strong message as well as musical backbone. People love Bring Me The Horizon for similar reasons. While the music is amazing and ever-changing, it’s the personal and emotional aspect of tracks like “It Never Ends” and “Drown” that will resonate with the listener long after the records stop spinning. If the music doesn’t subliminally force the listener to think in some new or different way then there really is no point to invest yourself in it.
When I first heard The Lovers/The Devil I was confused. I had previously only heard the singles “Sunshine” and “I Don’t Really Love You” and I couldn’t quite get a grasp on why the fuck a band so rooted in doing spoken, emotionally driven unclean vocals would want to introduce these weird meshes of melodic cleans sporadically throughout each track. It wasn’t sonically pleasing, and it wasn’t aesthetically intriguing either. The fan feedback via social media also seemed to be just as disappointed or confused as I was (though now, looking back, I think it was more confusion disguised as disappointment). The one major thing this album was doing was getting people talking–whether it was good or bad, people were genuinely discussing these out-of-left-field singles that seemingly no one could figure out.
In a strange move, Sworn In took to social media themselves to really push the idea that the album needed to be listened to as a whole, not just in bits and pieces. They stressed it was a concept album divided into two major ideas, The Lovers and The Devil, naturally, and encouraged fans not to write them off for their shift in sound.
So with that I went back into it.
And still wasn’t satisfied.
When we think “concept album,” we are thinking of an album that is divided up into varying sections and stories, but what if each track on The Lovers/The Devil is actually more of a microcosm of the entire album? Just about every track except “Oliolioxinfree” has this bizarre separation of depressing lullaby-like melody amongst thrashy, experimental hardcore. The title of the album is problematic enough. The Lovers/The Devil is not only annoying to type, but it’s also kind of jarring to look at and say. It’s two separate ideas used to create one concept, one idea. Perhaps this jarring sonic effect was the purpose; perhaps this album is meant to be just as jarring as the stylized title suggests.
The fact of the matter is that The Lovers/The Devil is never going to be truly sonically enjoyable. There is an intentional formula behind it that makes it just impeccably grating to listen to. But it can be appreciated for its conceptual sophistication. Think of Jackson Pollock. His paintings are sporadic and all over the place, but they say something far more transcendent than just a run of the mill portrait. They create outward commentaries on society and the people of the art world as well as those who view, collect, and showcase his paintings. They say that there are set formulas for “art,” but we do not necessarily need to follow them in order to create Art. There may not necessarily be a skill displayed within the painting, or a catchy flow to this album for that matter, but it’s a concept that came about from both past experience in and knowledge of the industry as well as technical skills in general. It’s throwing conventions to the wind and in the end creating conversation.
You cannot deny that people are talking about The Lovers/The Devil. While this time around the lyrics may not be the selling point that the listener takes away, it’s the challenge of making a new sound with a dualistic concept present in almost every track that is completely throwing people off their game. Metalcore, hardcore, djent, punk, dubstep, whatever alternative music you listen to is always so rooted in verse, chorus, verse, chorus, hook/breakdown/bass drop, chorus, blah blah blah, that when an album comes around and changes the entire dynamic, people tend to jump and just say it’s bad. But “bad” is the wrong word for The Lovers/The Devil because the album isn’t one to be listened to for its musicality, it’s meant to be listened to for its innovation and artistic nature. I will never bump this album on a car ride or at a party. I will never want to listen to it because of any melodic nature it may hold. And that’s because The Lovers/The Devil shouldn’t be viewed as a record. It should be viewed as sonic concept Art. And for that, Sworn In deserves to be lauded for their efforts, not beaten down for making a record absolutely no one expected.