Locked in isolation, far away from the world of touring and recording, many musicians struggled to find their footing to write and record new music. But Caleb Shomo was always a one-man studio musician, tackling drums, guitars and vocals on Beartooth’s six previous LPs, and may have been better prepared for this than most. Previously Shomo had collaborated with producers and writers while maintaining creative control, but Beartooth‘s latest album “Below” is his first completely solo outing, from writing through to mastering.
Work on “Below” started in 2019 while touring with A Day to Remember and carried through their Diseased and Disgusted run with Motionless in White. Bringing out a mobile studio rig for the first time to write on the road, Caleb took the energy of the live shows and channeled into creating his new sound. From the opening guitar feedback and pump of the kickdrum on the album’s title track, you are back in the crowd. Caleb, Oshie, Zach, Deely and Connor are stepping through fog to the stage, raising their arms and begging for the crowds roar. Vocals scream through the speakers beckoning for your fists to the air. Within moments, the driving guitars have you banging your head. “Take me down, see how low I go”. Prepare yourself because Devastation is about to reign.
Beartooth gave the first taste of this album exclusively to attendees of the band’s Osh Kosh, WI Drive-In concert back in October 2020. After months of isolation with no idea when or how live music would continue, the crowd managed to hold back the urge for a full demolition derby as the band presented “Fed Up” for the first time. “I’m so fed up I’ve had it!”, as if pulled from the hearts of every member of the crowd. By the second chorus everyone was singing along, fully engaged with driving guitars and drums pumping through the speakers. “I thrive in the panic” Caleb chants and we dive into a stank face breakdown. If this was this goood, what is the rest of the album going to be?
Followers of Caleb Shomo’s instagram page were treated to sneak peak riffs from No Return and other songs through 2020, but it wouldn’t be until March 2021 that we would get the news of the new album paired with 4 released singles: “Devastation“, “The Past is Dead“, “Fed Up” and “Hell Of It“. Each single was released (early) by Caleb and the boys via a Twitch live stream, paired with a group chat discussing the album and taking questions from the fans. These “Hype Trains” created quite the buzz and may have had a hand in inspiring the Beartooth branded coffee as well as popularizing the hashtag #zachsnotweird. The band has announced a live stream event for the albums release party June 30th as well. “Below” will be out and available June 25th.
As the first rotation of this album completes, the broadening in song writing and structure stands at the forefront. With many bands, evolution and growth tend to move forward into synth use and electronic effects. Beartooth leaned back on the more genuine instrumental sound. Utilizing effects pedals, amps, distortion, and classic production methods to create a nearly vintage sound has paid off with a fully encompassing depth and fullness rarely captured on modern records.
“Below” is instrumentally one of the groups strongest and most daring ventures. The rhythm section is adventurous and curious, toying with diffferent tempos and blast beats! The riffs drive the train along with multiple layers of melodic and chugging chords.The two sections marry beautifully to create many points of pure groove. It’s a ride through the depths featuring a doom metal influence coupled with punk, thrash, and even pop elements. There is a wonderful play with empty space, where a song’s drive changes suddenly, bringing forth a childlike excitement for whats next, only to dive back harder than before. As with previous endeavors, the production and mix of this album is done with distinctive intention to capture the evocative feel as much as the musical content. Whether through headphones or your car stereo, you want this one turned all the way up.
As their 2014 “Disgusting” album guided us through the mental and emotional turmoil of a young man and his demons, lyrically “Below” takes us through the journey of that same man, matured perhaps but fighting through isolation with those same voices. The band has maintained a style of contrasting deep lyrics with an upbeat style to dance through the dark. From screams to cleans, the vocals capture the emotional ups and down with such purity, even through the raspiness. The classic “oh-ohs” remaining in play add some lightness and brevity to the sometimes bleak lyrics. Where “Disease” was tuned to be mildly radio friendly and snuggled more into the melodic side of the group, “Below” gets down and dirty. There has been no hesitation to go harder, and no sacrifice made to the quality. As this is the first album with a recorded curse word the band has released, I feel safe to say this album FUCKS.
Following up the title track, we dive into “Devastation“. This song is fast with a fun, familiar Beartooth formula of jumping verse and stretching chorus. “Energy fading away from me” screams through followed by speedy drums. As we get through the second verse, there’s a moment to catch your breath before we spiral into the chorus and onto the breakdown “Drop this shit!“. An offhand comment recorded by Caleb in his basement that managed to work into the song during the edit phase. All in preparation for the mantra of this album: “Devastation will reign!”.
We hop to “The Past is Dead” with its pogo worthy chorus and oh oh’s. The vocal effects in the pre-chorus capture an almost 80’s vibe. The album moves along with “Fed Up” and right to “Dominate“. Screaming Shomo is strong as this song goes right for the gut. Chugging from the opening moment there is very little rest until the whisper “We’re all about to dominate”. A hopeful chorus followed by some doom style drums, and we go right back into it as the song remains relentless to the end. As “Disease’s Bad Listener” and “Disgusting’s Dead” never fail to invoke a mosh pit, “Dominate” will be this albums call to the circle.
As you recover and clean yourself up from the last track, we roll into “No Return“. Fitting back to their more Pop-Punk Post Hardcore sound and style, this song carries such a sadness and apathy; the feeling that it will never end nor be the same.
One of the more surprising songs on this one is “Phantom Pain“. It busts in with a punk drive that kicks your ass back into gear. Ending on “Time opens all wounds” in a way that calls back to “Sick and Disgusting” — almost as if he is speaking to his former self, to the wounds he thought had long since been healed. This emotion is underscored by the vocal layering and timing in the choruses. Another deliberate use of production to tell the story.
“Welcome Back!” screams into your ears as if to acknowledge we were just elsewhere. Fear not; the face melting is back on. “Hell Of It” rips into fast guitars and chants. Grooves in the chorus mixed with call and response that will resonate with you long after the song ends. This is some psychodelic doom AC/DC.
“This could be a Paramore song” not words I thought I would ever associate to Beartooth. The pop drive of “Skin” just calls for it. Diving into insecurities and the discomfort of self loathing in a way not quite ventured into before, “Skin” is purely anthemic and, like “Clever“, has gone further underneath to let out a relatable pain. “I’m so uncomfortable with this skin I’m in”.
“I Won’t Give It Up” is a Warped Tour style anthem down to a mention of the good old days. This is the song you will sing with your friends after a few beverages. This is immediately followed by “The Answer“. “I’m crumbling under the pressure”. In a recent Forbes interview, Caleb described this album as a time capsule of 2020. This lyric may be the most relatable line for every listener, perfectly summing up the torrential year.
“The Last Riff” may be one of the most ambitious undertakings Beartooth has provided. It is one of their longest songs to date (clocking in at 4:42) and there are no vocals. This is a pure instrumental. Somehow the guitars and drums manage to give you a full story, but perhaps anyone can project their own story onto this one. As an apocalyptic fall down to the true Below, perhaps this song is the portal into the next album.
“Below” is an amazing, inspired, original record that bleeds pure heart. Experimenting and daring to try new things has paid off for this Ohio-based quintet. Caleb’s perfectionism shows through in this recording. This is the one to take them further up festival cards and into arenas. Beartooth has always been one band on record and another live due to their explosive stage presence. As the stage side of the band gets their hands on these songs, they will likely evolve even further.
Beartooth is prepping for the upcoming US Below Tour with Wage War and Dragged Under starting in Las Vegas, NV on 08/14/2021, and their UK/Europe tour back with the bros in Motionless In White in 2022. They are also on several upcoming festival lineups including Inkcarceration, Blue Ridge Rock Festival, Louder Than Life and Welcome To Rockville. Do not wait to grab tickets; once this album drops, they will disappear quickly.
Review By Holly Murray
BELOW TRACK LISTING:
“The Past Is Dead”
“Hell Of It”
“I Won’t Give It Up”
“The Last Riff”
BEARTOOTH ON TOUR:
WITH WAGE WAR + DRAGGED UNDER
8/14 — Las Vegas, NV — House of Blues
8/15 — San Diego, CA — Soma
8/16 — Anaheim, CA — House of Blues
8/17 — Sacramento, CA — Ace of Spades
8/19 — Portland, OR — Crystal
8/20 — Seattle, WA — Showbox Sodo
8/21 — Spokane, WA — Knitting Factory
8/22 — Garden City, ID — Revolution Concert House + Event Center
8/24 — Billings, MT — Zoo Montana
8/26 — Fargo, ND — Fargo Brewing Company
8/27 — Minneapolis, MN — The Fillmore
8/28 — Kansas City, MO — The Truman
8/29 — Denver, CO — Summit
8/31 — Oklahoma City, OK — Diamond Ballroom
9/1 — Dallas, TX — House of Blues
9/3 — San Antonio, TX — Vibes Event Center
9/4 — Houston, TX — House of Blues
9/7 — Fort Lauderdale, FL — Revolution
9/8 — St. Petersburg, FL — Jannus Live
9/9 — Atlanta, GA — Masquerade
9/11 — Appomattox, VA — Blue Ridge Rock Festival
9/12 — Mansfield, OH — Inkcarceration Festival
9/13 — Philadelphia, PA — The Fillmore
9/15 — New York, NY — Terminal 5
9/17 — Worcester, MA — Palladium
9/18 — Baltimore, MD — Sound Stage
9/19 — New Haven, CT — Toad’s Place
9/20 — Pittsburgh, PA — Stage AE
9/22 — Chicago, IL — House of Blues
9/24 — Detroit, MI — St. Andrews Hall
9/25 — Grand Rapids, MI — 20 Monroe Live