Written by Rebecca Hooey
Ever since the release of Disgusting in 2014, Beartooth has established themselves as having one of the most unique sounds in the rock scene. With lyrics that are perfectly angry, and music that is perfect to mosh to, Beartooth is an irreplaceable staple within the modern rock n’ roll scene. This is thanks, in part, to Caleb Shomo and his relentlessly inimitable lyrics, and his singular dedication to the music behind them. Having played all the instruments, and written most of the music and lyrics, on the previous two albums, it could definitely be said that Beartooth is Shomo’s passion. While their first album Disgusting was met with a largely universal appreciation among the alternative scene due to its angry forceful sound, Beartooth’s second release was not met with such extensive praise. Many people accused them of going soft, and didn’t appreciate the album’s less metallic sound. On September 28th, their newest album Disease offered a comprehensive response to naysayers, and is, in my opinion, the best thing that has happened to hardcore music in a long time.
Disease, to me, is a beautiful continuation of the story Shomo has been telling since the release of Disgusting. Disgusting was an album from someone who was clearly at the bottom of an emotional pit. Shomo has even said in interviews that it was an album that he wrote trying to work through his problems and conquer his demons. But, at the end of the day, it is not an album without hope. Disgusting is an album of healing, specifically about the process. Aggressive is a poignant album about that period after healing. The fallout, what people think, the difficulty of maintaining and living within a new mindset. Aggressive is petulantly triumphant, but still reminiscent of the times passed. Where Disgusting was about someone who had been knocked down, Aggressive is about that person standing up, blood in their mouth, smiling smugly, and kicking the ass of whoever hurt them. With Disease, we see a new chapter. It feels as though Shomo has fallen back into old habits, and old feelings, but this time sees no way out. Unlike the heartfelt despair laced with hope felt in the lyrics of Disgusting, this album feels hopeless. This leads to a darker, sharper feeling throughout. In the era of Disease, Beartooth still has demons, but this time they’re not so much wrestling with them. This time, their demons have come out to play. This music, rather than a callout, is a call to arms, it’s a warning. Don’t fuck with me.
The first thing I noticed when Disease started playing was how sharp Beartooth’s sound has become. Yes, the production is crisper, the instruments sound cleaner and clearer and sharper, but it’s beyond that. The intervals used are gritty and grimy sounding (in the best way), and there’s a certain staccato or marcato quality to the guitar and vocals that just feels more in your face than previous releases. From the first note of “Greatness or Death”, to the moment that the last note of “Clever” ceases to ring, Disease is raw in a way that is completely different from either Disgusting or Aggressive.
Among the highlights of this tour through Shomo’s current neuroses is “Infection”. While not technically a single, it was one of the first songs that fans heard off of this new record, and is indicative of the sound and overall tone of Disease. The track leaked in mid July, the day before the first of the band’s three dates performing on the final Vans Warped Tour, and prompted them to release album art and a tracklist for the then upcoming album. “Infection”, to me, sounds exactly like the kind of track you’d expect to come from Beartooth. It’s hard hitting lyrically, with an edge, but also with some soaring clean vocals in the chorus that anyone can sing along to live. Lyrically, it shows the indignance now living within Shomo, along with the perfect amount of letting people know that he’s not doing so well mentally. Literally, he tells us “I’m not sane/I lost my direction/I caught the infection again”.
For those looking for Beartooth to not be as ‘soft’ as their last album, “Greatness or Death” and “Bad Listener” are the perfect tracks. With “Bad Listener” being the ‘harder’ (read: faster drums, more distorted guitar, and more screaming/less clean vocals) of the two. Both are impeccable tracks that highlight the diverse musical abilities of the band, and show that they aren’t afraid of baring their souls and feelings at the expense of a little self deprecation. With “Bad Listener” being one of the first singles to come off of Disease, it would normally be easy for it to become yesterday’s news, but it fits so well within the context of the full album that for me it became a standout song from this release.
But it’s in the ‘softer’ songs that I feel this record thrives. Yes, there’s an amazing quality to the fast crashing cymbals and raspy screaming. But when Beartooth strips back just a little, and forces the lyrics to take center stage, you get such poignant songs as “Clever”, “Believe”, and the title track “Disease. To me, the lyrical poignancy has always been the charm and appeal to Beartooth. Caleb Shomo is able to achieve a level of lyrical nakedness that speaks to so many, though Shomo has been quoted saying he’s not trying to do anything other than work through and deal with his own problems through writing music. On these mellower tracks, Shomo bares his soul and creates an honest rapport with listeners. “Disease” is a track that details the hopeless feelings hinted at throughout the rest of the record. “Believe”, by contrast, is the only song that held even the smallest glimmer of hope. Yes, Shomo states that he has problems and feels hopeless, but he also expresses his desire to believe in something, and sometimes that desire is all the hope you have, all the hope you really need.
In all, this record encompasses everything that makes Beartooth unique to the scene. It’s emotional to the point of discomfort, hard as nails, and leaves you feeling like you’ve just had the most intense therapy session of your life. Disease, like any other Beartooth record, deals with the parts of the human experience that we don’t often talk about. The gritty bits, the stuff that isn’t marketable, jagged edges and broken souls included. At the end of the day, Disease makes a great addition to Beartooth’s discography, and is exactly the punch in the gut that hardcore rock and roll needed.