Beartooth – ‘The Surface’

By Katherine Allvey

Being a Beartooth fan, especially a long term one, is like having an entry ticket into frontman Caleb Shomo’s psyche. The frontman’s public struggle with depression and self-hatred has informed most of their records, but now he’s working towards recovery and self-acceptance. As a result, the messages and themes in ‘The Surface’ are simultaneously incredibly positive and represent a new struggle but this has not come at the expense of the quality of their ferocious sound. If you’re looking to wallow in misery, stop reading now – ‘The Surface’ is a record of hope and survival. 

‘Riptide’, 2022’s first herald of the next phase of Beartooth, is a line in the sand between Shomo’s old and new mindset. “It’s the last time that I romanticise the riptide that’s trying to drown me,” he declares over unforgiving and upbeat guitar. The melody swirls like the dark waters of the imagination over clinging bass lines like unseen hands clutching at your ankles. ‘Might Love Myself’, the second advance single drop, would have been unthinkable lyrically two years ago. There’s no arrogance in the openness of the chorus. Hope flits between every staccato guitar note but the guts in the underlying shredding reveals the courage that it takes to make that statement. Then we have ‘Sunshine’; a song that climbs and falls between acoustic sweetness and slamming metal grit before uniting the two in a manifesto for yourself. ‘Doubt Me’ is an outlet for the rage that comes with recovery. The repressed resentment of the betrayed is given a voice over almost industrial hidden electronic raindrops. The fury in how Shomo spits ‘rot’ is beautiful corruption at its finest. 

Epilogue track ‘I Was Alive’ is unlike the rest of the album, and, dare we say it, the rest of Beartooth’s output to date. It’s not reflective of someone who’s mired in frustration; the refreshing sentiment about seizing the day is like plunging your head into the ocean at the end of a long day in the sun. Similarly, ‘Look The Other Way’, a plea for privacy, is around fifty percent acoustic solitude and fifty percent minimal crunchy-guitar brightness. Both these songs are incredible works of honesty and optimism. The elusive Beartooth quality of guitar tracks like bitten nails and a longing to be heard is still present though. The desperation in the catch and release, or the growls flying into the melody, that we heard back in 2015’s mega-hit ‘In Between’ runs through ‘The Surface’ too, just in a slightly more sophisticated way.

However, if you’re the type who loved the visceral self-loathing in Beartooth’s earlier albums like ‘Aggressive’ and ‘Sick’ and viewed ‘Riptide’ with trepidation when it dropped last year, you may not appreciate ‘The Surface’ and its philosophy. Much as it is sometimes painful to admit, our favourite musicians are human (though the jury is still out on Keith Richards), and we cannot expect them to remain static or to resist bettering their own lives in favour of our musical preferences. So, yes, the unadulterated nihilism which characterised Beartooth’s earlier albums is gone, and yes, that might lose them a few fans, but we’re witnessing part of a journey on ‘The Surface’. Shomo and Co have turned a corner onto the sunnier side of the street and are making music which reflects where they are now without leaving their talent behind. 

Now they are in a new phase of their careers and health, and have shown that they can adapt and broaden their sound as they change, what will the Beartooth albums of the future sound like? If they’re following the direction signposted by ‘The Surface’, we can expect more firework bursts of light and struggle to chase away our own darkness. With a UK tour announced for a year’s time, whose setlist will undoubtedly be heavy on tracks from ‘The Surface’, we’re going to see these new tracks and the new Beartooth come into their own, adding to rather than replacing the formidable body of work from one of the world’s most exciting bands. 

KATE ALLVEY

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