Serration- Simulations of Hell (Album Review)

Oct. 9, 2023


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This current era may be one of the best times to be a fan of metalcore, as just about every variant of the genre is represented.  For a while it seemed like the majority of what you could find was either mid-2000s melodic metalcore with heavy riffs and anthemic choruses or bands leaning into some djent influence, but in recent years there has also been a return to the rawer, darker metalcore from the 90s.  Alberta, Canada based Serration has been gaining traction since 2018 by doing just that, and their latest effort Simulations of Hell crams a lot into a short thirteen-minute run.  Fast paced, technical riffing and chugging breaks are interspersed with melodic interludes that add a creepier, somber tone in between.  It does feel like Serration can take this concept even further, especially given the short length, but they continue to offer a fantastic take on the rawer side of the genre.

Opener “Boreal Serpent” crams a lot into its one-minute run-time, initially offering fast paced and more technical riffing that has slight hints of mathcore before settling into a slower breakdown that hits as hard as it possibly can.  There’s a lot of late 90s and early 2000s metalcore present in Serration’s DNA, with quite a few of the riffs channeling that same mix of raw and darker edged riffs that defined material from Zao and Underoath circa their The Changing of Times era.  Songs like “A Suicide Note in Midi Format” bring a bit more melody into the mix, but even when there’s a respite from the down-tuned chugs and scorching riffing on the main songs it still has a bleaker slant.  Serration does rely a lot on breakdowns, but they vary up the attack in ways that make them effective, and this keeps things from feeling one-dimensional.  Two of the eight tracks are softer interludes that use acoustic guitar and piano to create moodier soundscapes that provide some calmer textures, but with an underlying sense of dread.  It’s an effective approach but given the short length of the album and the tracks themselves, it does feel like Serration has room to further develop these ideas.  Rather than just fading out after a somber, reflective moment, I could see the band keeping the tension on future releases and jumping right back into the harsher riffing without warning.  But even with this in mind, the strength of songs like “Shroud of Gnarled Tongues” and “Altar of Guilt” has kept me coming back for more.  It’s also worth noting that Simulations of Hell nails that earlier metalcore tone, letting some grit and grime come through while also emphasizing the familiar crunchiness of the drum work.

Vocalist Cody Dewald is where quite a few of the Zao comparisons are likely to come from, as his raspy screams sound very close to Dan Weyandt.  It’s an approach that pairs well with the rawer guitar work and production choices, and while the screams are very prominent they don’t overpower the rest of the band.  As someone that grew up on a steady diet of Dallas era Underoath and Zao, this type of screaming immediately drew me in to Serration’s music, and Dewald packs a punch from beginning to end.  “A Suicide Note in Midi Format” brings in Dying Wish’s Emma Boster for a duet of harsh and cleaner ranges that switches things up a bit, while “Altar of Guilt” doubles down on the abrasive with Sanction’s David Blom.  The vocals are one area where Serration is really firing on all cylinders right now, and they should continue to play to this strength.

Serration taps into that darker metalcore sound that was prominent throughout the late 90s to mid-2000s, but they’re far more than a nostalgic listen.  Simulations of Hell nails that grittier, bleak sound and hits hard with both faster and chugging riffs, and its attack is varied enough for some individual moments to really stick out over repeat listens.  But it does feel like there’s room to take some of these ideas further, particularly the calmer interludes which could be expanded upon to create an even tenser listen.  If you’re a fan of bands like Zao, mid-period Underoath, or even the early Pluto Records roster Serration is sure to be appealing, but the best seems like it’s still to come.  Simulations of Hell is available from DAZE.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg