If Beartooth’s previous releases were about Caleb Shomo’s struggle with depression, then the third full-length album, ‘Disease’, is him accepting that the dark might never leave. Beartooth began as his pressure valve in 2013 with EP ‘Sick’ and continued through 2014’s ‘Disgusting’, 2016’s ‘Aggressive’ and now this 2018 effort. Shomo is the songwriter, vocalist, drummer, bassist, guitarist and producer in the studio, while on stage he is joined by four bandmates. He is 25. He is in his second band (former member of Attack Attack!). And he has toured for a decade. What exactly does he have to be dep……. No, only joking. This is the point the record makes – that depression is a disease and no amount of imaginary checklist-ticking can fix it. This album, like the others, is his cigarettes and beer and coffee and CBT and SSRI (or SNRI, if you prefer).
And like the others, this mofo laid the groundwork in the basement of his house in Ohio. However, this time he ditched the digital giftwrapping for analogue vibes, taking the ideas to Nashville’s Blackbird Studio. He mixed the album himself with assistance from an engineer. Who does that? This man is a talent.
There’s melodic instrumentation, breakdowns and clean singing alongside typical metalcore growls and screams here. So, is it metalcore – borrowing parts from extreme metal and hardcore punk? Call it hard rock for now. And rock hard it does. In the middle of the record is Bad Listener. It starts off with Shomo’s gravelly singing and before you know it, he hits you with the good stuff, screaming “I’ll be banging my head till my brain rots.” He’s so angry here. Best song on the album. Then the album opener, Greatness or Death. It’s a sneaky one. The acoustic introduction has you at ease with its orange autumn vibe, then bam, Shomo hits you with screams followed promptly by brutal drums and guitar. There’s no in between for him. He’s not going to be some boring nobody, but if I he doesn’t do something great, or at least meaningful with his life, does that mean the dark will win? Perfect.
The lyric “It’s like holding on” from Disease is delivered in a way that makes goosebumps inevitable. There’s some imposter syndrome going on here with “You think I’m strong, but I just pretend” and “I’m living a lie.” The chorus on this one is catchy. Vey catchy. Depression has never sounded so, um, good? This was the first song Shomo wrote and it became the framework for the rest of the album.
“Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh Make me believe it…” When Believe rocks up, it brings an A Day To Remember vibe – probably Shomo’s closest musical cousin. The chorus is very yummy. The listener might be transported to their teen years, sitting on a metal fence with their mates, Connies dangling, with nothing to do. The air is fresh, and tomorrow is still undecided.
The album closer, Clever, contains perhaps the best lyric on the album: “If I’m clever you might never understand/I feel like death and me are walking hand in hand/When my happiness is hanging by a thread/I finally feel content.” Dark stuff. Jump to Infection, where Shomo blends the lines between sweet and savoury masterfully – the voice tremble during the line “I caught the infection again” is a nice, authentic touch. At first listen, you think ‘this won’t go down in the rock music annals’, but Fire’s “Sink a little lower/Get a little higher” lyric with the drums going is just earhole sex.
The more you listen to the album, the greater your ability to forgive some of the pop-punk sentiment and just realise the level of production is excruciatingly good. He uses quite a bit of vocal double tracking throughout the record, giving it a bigger sound. The song structures are simple, with verses, pre-choruses, choruses and all that jazz, but he doesn’t need to be prog to be artistic. The value of Disease lies in the notion that Shomo’s songs weren’t necessarily meant for the world – they were meant for him. The music writing process keeps him busy and alive. He doesn’t care what the market wants. And if Red Bull Records let him do that, all the power to them. Shomo makes music because it’s his only (constant) happiness in this world. For people with depression, this record connects like a Fleshlight to a shower screen.
Disease is out September 28 via Red Bull Records/UNFD. Pre-order here: https://beartoothband.com/