One of the most immensely heavy acts to come out of the 2000s metalcore scene, Massachusetts’ The Acacia Strain have worked bloody hard for over 20 years to keep their career ticking over while so many of their peers have fallen away.
And what a career they’ve had; touring the planet many times over, releasing 10 full lengths and a bunch of one-offs singles and EPs. They’ve grown their original metalcore stylings into a unique blend of hardcore, doom, sludge and death metal, creating a sound that has undoubtedly influenced the current new-era of hardcore-meets-metal groups like Knocked Loose, Kublai Khan and Harms Way.
The Acacia Strain‘s key tracks like “Beast,” “Skynet” and “Whoa! Shut It Down” are some of the biggest, mosh-friendly tunes of the past fifteen years. But what about the lesser known songs? With over 100 original numbers to choose from, there are plenty of long forgotten deep cuts for us to exorcise. So what are they? Read on and find out….
The first Acacia Strain release with then-new guitarists Devin Shidaker and Richie Gomez, the Above/Below EP was a fine introduction for the fresh band members. Both numbers are killer, with “Below” being a perfect example of mid-period The Acacia Strain. It moves at a venomous pace, with the low tuned chugs and atmospheric lead guitars creating the perfect bed for Vincent Bennett‘s evil roars. Plus that ending breakdown is absolutely titanic. Most overlook “Below” for the opening “Above” – but they’re both equally prime Acacia Strain.
The super rough first The Acacia Strain full length …And Life Is Very Long has almost been erased from the their storied history. Though it’s available through all the regular streaming avenues, as far as we can tell the band has never played anything from it live. Truth be told, it’s not their best work – vocalist Vincent Bennett sounds like a shell of the powerful frontman he’d become – but there are some highlights, especially mid-LP tune “Killing On Empty.” It has the melodic touches that would be more prevalent on the next couple of releases, whilst it packs some The Acacia Strain‘ trademark, massive breakdowns. Again, not their finest moment, but a ton of potential on display.
“Kraken” is lifted from 2008’s Continent; the album that really broke the group on the world stage. Lots of classic Acacia Strain material on here, but our selection – a track tucked towards the back end of the LP – never gets enough love. A relentless beating with a consistent groove and some filthy riffs, the only time that “Kraken” has been played live was on the tour for Continent‘s 10th anniversary. Which is crazy, as it’s shorter, straight to the point assault would make it the perfect fodder for The Acacia Strain‘s chaotic live set.
Loaded with guest vocalists such as Nate Johnson (ex-Fit For An Autopsy), All That Remains‘ Phil Labonte and the late Mitch Lucker of Suicide Silence, “Predator; Never Prey” is a killer jam from the classic The Dead Walk LP. The album was a massive step-up for The Acacia Strain; heavier and more pissed off than they’ve ever been before. Probably guilty of being on a record with lots of other great songs, the throttling “Predator; Never Prey” has been forgotten and overlooked for years now – which for a brutal tune with such a number of high profile of frontmen, is almost criminal.
A one-off single that came out in early 2012, the crushing “Servant In The Place Of Truth” is a violently heavy slab of ‘Meshuggah-goes-hardcore’ chaos. It should be regarded as one of The Acacia Strain‘s biggest moments – check out the colossal ending passage – plus it’s one of frontman Vincent Bennett‘s best performances. It’s hard to open a song better with the line “grab life by the throat and gouge out it’s eyes,” and arguably packs the most violent “blegh” of his career. For whatever reason it’s not on streaming services, and – despite it initially being advertised as such – was never included on an Acacia Strain studio release.
Heading back to The Acacia Strain‘s sophomore effort 3750, the group’s 2004 album was something of a fresh start for the band. Tracks like “Carbomb” and “Brown Noise” still feature heavily in their setlist; but a tune that hasn’t seen the stage in years is the closing “Sun Poison and Skin Cancer”. Although it starts off with a little by-the-numbers metalcore riff, it picks up in heaviness and aggression as the song ticks by, before coming to a thunderous conclusion. Also worth checking out is the pumped up version from the The Most Known Unknown live release, solely for guitarist Daniel ‘DL’ Laskiewicz‘s screaming pinch-harmonics.
An absolutely monolithic hunk of music from 2012’s Death Is The Only Mortal, “Time and Death and God” is built upon the ultra-heaviness displayed on the aforementioned “Servant In The Place Of Truth” single. Yes, the Meshuggah influence is obvious – not only in the low tuned, grooving riffs, but the song’s lengthy, unnerving clean guitar break. It builds up for an eternity, adding a layer of atmosphere almost unheard in this style of music. It of course eventually climaxes with even more thick riffs and off-time drums, which seamlessly fits the existential/nihilistic lyrical content. Heavy in more than one sense of the word.
The Acacia Strain‘s fifth album Wormwood saw the act embrace eight-string guitars and strip away almost any melodic aspects to their sound. There are some excellent career high-points across the track-listing, which leads to songs like our selection “Unabomber” becoming overlooked. By far the least streamed and performed tune off of Wormwood, the fantastic “Unabomber” is loaded with so many great riffs and grooves, with the dissonant guitars over the top of the repeated outro passage a real masterstroke of heavy music writing. Tucked away as the LP’s penultimate beating, “Unabomber” deserves a lot more hype than it receives.
For whatever reason, 2017’s Gravebloom has become a bit of a dark horse in The Acacia Strain back catalogue. The band have seemingly avoided playing most of material off it, and it’s undervalued by fans alike – which is a damn shame. With a real sludge/doom metal vibe running through the record, deep cuts like “Calloused Mouth,” “Model Citizen,” and our top pick, the furiously apocalyptic “Walled City,” are amazing tracks highlighting the immense talent in the “new”/post DL-era of The Acacia Strain. Heavier than ever, Gravebloom demands a re-listen.
The Acacia Strain‘s first full length without founding member DL, it wouldn’t be too harsh to say that Coma Witch was a little underwhelming when it first dropped back in 2014. Fortunately time has been favourable to it, with late-album highlight “Whale Shark” straddling the sound of The Acacia Strain both new and old. It features everything you’d want from a classic The Acacia Strain song; with heavy, bouncing riffs, lingering guitar overdubs and some excellent lyrics from the always reliable, quote machine that is Vincent Bennett. It, along with the enormous “Observer,” showed the next incarnation The Acacia Strain was in safe, riff-writing hands.
What is your favourite lesser known Acacia Strain track? With plenty of albums to pick through we know we’ve missed a few choice deep cuts – so what are they? Let us know in the comments!
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