A mildly successful gothic adventure
Despair Anthems is Philadelphia-based rock outfit Executioner’s Mask’s attempting at amalgamating the band’s considerable musical experience and wide variety of influence into a full-length project. It’s interesting, to say least, and definitely trends gothic. The band is composed of vocalist Jay Gambit, guitarist/drummer Ryan Wilson and guitarist Craig Mickle. Among these three seasoned veterans, there is plenty of experience in noise metal, doom metal and punk rock. Despair Anthems reaches in all three of those directions, and often comes out with a fairly impressive, uniquely dark and aggressively foreboding finished product. Despite the successful experiments though, as the album coasts through its 40 minute runtime, the band seems to lose track of how to create something significant out of their most compelling musical ideas. The most satisfying flashes of brilliance on Despair Anthems start to feel more and more rare as the album goes on.
“The Defilers” is a solid introduction, primarily due to some of the group’s darkest and most atmospheric instrumentation. The descent into hell begins. Track two, “No Funeral,” is some of the best and most overtly melodic instrumental work on the album. The unrelenting drums act as backup for the centerpiece of this cut: Wilson and Mickle’s guitar work.
On “Bury Me a Grave,” surprisingly strong melodies become a recurring character; this time, its the backing guitar melodies. The base of noise upon which the song is built also feeds this particular track’s menace beautifully. “1988” feels like one of the more straightforward cuts. The group’s most readily apparent strengths up to this point in the album are still here, but in a less concentrated quantity dose. It’s more straightforward nature feels like an unnecessary detour, considering how otherworldly most of the album is.
Then, “In the Night” stuns with a bold synth-heavy opening. Unfortunately, the initial novelty of a synth intro/refrain in this context wears off quickly when people realize that those synths lines just destroy the unique sense of impending doom that the majority of this album curates so well. The verses without the same synth backing honestly feel much more impactful than the emotionally confusing chorus. The lack of interesting instrumentation on the next cut, “True Blue,” leaves vocalist Jay Gambit to carry most of the weight here. He does little to go above and beyond his usual vocal performance, which at this point in the album, is starting to grow old. “Growing Distances” is a similar story.
On “Hatred of Self,” an initially exciting intro gives way to more of the same instrumentation and vocal groans. The one sick riff that carries the chorus is sadly not enough to make this track worth repeat listens. On “Ratboy,” the noticeably more dynamic drums, especially on the latter half, become an album highlight. Their interplay with one of Executioner’s Mask’s better riffs makes for an exciting ride. The penultimate track, “Freight of Fire,” feels like it’s meant to be the explosion that the last few tracks of an album like this deserves. It quickly becomes apparent that this is not that explosion; it’s feels much closely to explosive mundanity of a poorly organized fireworks show. “Desperation Rising” makes sense as a closer, but just isn’t an entertaining exit. Its brooding is effective, but there is no resolution or instrumentally-supported conclusion. It just exists, and is then over. The album disappears into the night without a peep, as if the conclusion of Despair Anthems isn’t even a worthy occasion.
By the end of this project, the vocal style has truly gone stale. While vocal acrobatics might not be exactly what is generally demanded from a gothic rock album, there was just not enough experimentation surrounding that ever-similar base of vocals stylistic choices to justify the lack of change throughout these 40 minutes. While fans and followers of the gothic rock sound might already be well-acclimated to a vocal style like this, and could even be excited by it’s heavy usage in the project, it’s still the downfall of Despair Anthems. There is a lot of great stuff beyond these poor vocal judgements, it was all just overshadowed by the the band’s toughest to ignore flaws. Executioner’s Mask’s many intentional attempts at pushing rock boundaries on Despair Anthems are incredibly admirable. Some connect and create a lasting impressions, but most do not.