Over the last seven years, Beartooth have provided an often-uncomfortable glimpse into Caleb Shomo’s lowest personal depths. Initially, the multi-instrumentalist, producer and former Attack Attack! vocalist had intended the band to be a personal, private project – a way for him to work through the depression that had been a constant presence in his life since he was 11 years old. So no one was more surprised when, on release of Beartooth’s debut, Disgusting, it was met with unanimous acclaim. A messy, difficult but cathartic listen, he spilled his guts and heart into songs that raged against a backdrop of hardcore punk, gritted-teeth rock’n’roll and energetic metalcore.
Since then, subsequent albums, 2016’s Aggressive and 2018’s Disease, have pushed the band further up the festival stages, although musically, neither album managed to capture that same, going-off-the-deep-end volatility as their initial onslaught. The fourth album, Below, doesn’t suffer those same shortcomings. This is easily Beartooth’s gnarliest, most brutal record by some way, pulling thrash and doom influences into Beartooth’s frantic DNA, yet packing the kind of life-affirming singalongs that could blow the roof off Wembley Arena.
Despite being darker in tone than anything else in the band’s discography, any of the first nine tracks could be a single. From the moment the title track opens with squalling guitars and Caleb’s gargled-glass roar of ‘I feel the rage, something’s starting to grow’, there’s no let-up. The pace is frantic and the quality consistent, with everything that makes Beartooth so great amped right up to 11. Devastation combines blistering punk riffs and a chorus that will stay in your head for weeks before The Past Is Dead has the vocalist raging over spit-flecked Every Time I Die guitars and enough stadium-ready ‘Woooahh Woooaah’s to put a peacocking Fall Out Boy to shame.
During recent interviews, Caleb admitted his mental health had taken a battering during lockdown and the heavier influences at play only amplify that palpable anguish. Dominate, in particular, thrashes and stomps like a rabid, Slayer-powered velociraptor and Fed Up sees him picking at scabs that won’t heal, laying bare his emotions and frustrations with unflinching honesty. ‘When I disappear, no one will care, about a single word I’ve ever put into the air,’he bellows brokenly on No Return, while Hell Of It drips with self-loathing, piss and vinegar: ‘Rip the flesh off my bones, make a feast of my carcass.’
The sound of a person being devoured by their demons is never pleasant to listen to, and Caleb carries these songs at times with a desperation that suggests he’s gripping on by the very tips of his fingers. But what makes Beartooth such an empowering force in the metal community is the band’s ability to inspire anyone listening to do the same, turning the darkest of moments into catharsis. Below is the kind of album we can all believe in.