God Forbid Equilibrium Album Review
By Matt Albers
Of the bands from the metalcore or new wave of American metal scenes that boomed in the past decade, East Brunswick, New Jersey’s God Forbid has continued to struggle through challenges and adversity through ups and downs and carve their own niche in modern metal throughout their career. While never gaining monumental success, their perseverance and passion for music continues to secure their remembrance as one of the most respected and hard-working American metal bands in recent memory. Their sound constantly went through changes, modifications and adaptations and continues to do so, which can leave listeners divided on views and opinions in variations in their sound. These and other factors are what bring us to their most recent effort, Equilibrium.
Equilibrium marks God Forbid’s sixth full-length album and first through Victory Records, after departing from Century Media after over eight years, three albums, one EP and one DVD. Shortly after the 2009 release of their last album, Earthsblood, rhythm guitarist, clean vocalist and founding member Dallas Coyle left the group, marking the welcoming of former Himsa guitarist Matt Wicklund into the band later that year. The release of Equilibrium comes three years after Earthsblood, reminiscent to how that album was released just shy of three and a half years after its predecessor, 2005’s IV: Constitution Of Treason. God Forbid has a strong track record for releasing overall solid albums between extensive time gaps, but a look back into their earliest works shows a drastic change in their sound as their career went on. Any fan or even casual listener familiar with the band’s catalogue would be waiting for a new release with baited breath, and any combination of excitement, anxiety, and wariness.
It’s always important to begin at the most logical point, the beginning, which in the case of Equilibrium would be the album’s first track, “Don’t Tell Me What To Dream.” Apart from being the opening track to the album, this was also the first full song released to the public via social media. This song received a broad range of mixed reviews; as well it should, since the sound is noticeably different for God Forbid, or at least their past three albums. The low-tuned, seven string guitar chug and oddly technical time signatures clearly show that God Forbid was experimenting with elements of djent on this track. Because of this, many who listened to the song were rubbed the wrong way and assumed that the band would be cashing in on the current djent craze for all of Equilibrium (read on and you’ll find that’s not so).
While “Don’t Tell Me What To Dream” may remind listeners of bands like Veil Of Maya or even Meshuggah (the band often credited with sparking the djent movement), the guitar and drum work also incorporate thrashier sounds more familiar with God Forbid. Overall, the song itself shows more of an experimentation with sounds popular with djent, but is also reminiscent of God Forbid’s grindy, technical structure and sound from their first two albums Reject The Sickness and Determination. God Forbid’s riffing was always technically chuggy, and even songs from Earthsblood like “The Rain,” “Empire Of The Gun” and especially “Bat The Angels” had prominent low guitar tones similar to what is heard in djent. If anything, “Don’t Tell Me What To Dream” is more of a reconnection to the earliest God Forbid sounds, but could also have been an attempt at a connection to the new djent audience at the same time. Regardless, it actually ends up being one of the strongest songs on the album.
The technical sounds and structure found in “Don’t Tell Me What To Dream” seem to disappear for the rest of the album, until a short instrumental track at the end called “Awakening.” The rest of the eleven songs on the album are spontaneous mixed bag of sounds both familiar and foreign to God Forbid. Some songs like “Conquer” and “My Rebirth” take a more melodic path with catchy choruses, while straight-up thrashers like “Cornered” and “A Few Good Men” exhibit energy and angst void of clean vocals that will leave headbangers wanting more. The two highest positives of this album are that the songs are singular, letting few meld together into obscurity, and that the whole album is very progressive and experimental for the band. Love them or hate them for it, God Forbid has become a band that finds ways to combine various musical influences, both within and out of metal, to make a sound that’s both eclectic and familiar at the same time. Two of the songs that stand out most are “Scraping The Walls” and the title track. By jumping back and forth between heavy jams and light melody, and with a cleanly sung chorus over fast riffing and blast beats, “Scraping The Walls” resembles Swedish melodic death metal the likes of In Flames or perhaps Arch Enemy. “Equilibrium” has strong, haunting orchestration and an anthemic chorus that almost hints of a progressive ballad from bands like Nevermore or Dream Theater.
Just as the songs and music of Equilibrium are incredibly diverse and eclectic, so are the lyrics. Vocalist Byron Davis has always poured his heart out into the words of God Forbid’s songs, even during the band’s humble beginnings. The driving lyrical force throughout this album seems to be a feeling of being trapped and in despair, questioning and analyzing surroundings not only to persevere but to rise above. Typical if not overused themes in metal lyrics, but Davis’ signature growls and barks coupled with backing clean vocals make sure the message and emotion gets across while rarely sounding mundane. The language and themes throughout Equilibrium suggest that lyrical inspiration may have come from two main sources: politics and faith, both written and presented anywhere from solid and concrete to vague and ambiguous. The lyrics, though at times preachy and perhaps controversial or divisive, are indeed thought-provoking and could easily elicit emotional responses, either conflicted or confirmed.
While Equilibrium is no doubt captivating for many reasons, it’s not without its own flaws. With the departure of Dallas Coyle it’s surprising to see that the vocals are more melodic than probably expected, not only with his brother and lead guitarist Doc picking up the slack, but even with Davis stepping off of his raspy growl duties to actually show off some bold, strong singing, especially on the title track. Like the past two albums however, the clean vocals often feel forced and written on purpose to give a more melodic tone than just from the instruments, such as songs like “This Is Who I Am” and “Move On.” Whether it’s all clean vocals or dual clean and harsh vocals at the same time, Byron and Doc harmonizations shine, but Doc doesn’t always succeed in pushing his voice out of its low rage comfort zone.
The production is top notch thanks to Mark Lewis and Jason Suecof. At the same time however, a good portion of the mixing sounds jumbled as if there’s too much going on at once. This actually makes it difficult to even hear, take in and appreciate the stellar guitar solos from Doc Coyle and Matt Wicklund. Probably the most outstanding negative of Equilibrium is a frequent appearance of keyboards mixed underneath the rest of the music on some of the songs. Without an actual member in a band known to play it, the use of keyboards, even if it sounds good, can ultimately stand out as forced and unnecessary. God Forbid has featured keyboards in some of their songs in the past, but while previous examples were generally well done and not overused, the keyboards in Equilibrium are very hit-or-miss. The piano intro in “Cornered” and an ominous, gothic organ-type sound at the end of “Where We Come From” add to each song’s respective atmosphere, but the irritating presence of an almost new-wave or Euro-metal synthesizer in “Overcome” damn near ruins this perfectly good song; it seriously sounds like the keyboardist from Still Remains or Bleeding Through somehow forced their way onto the track.
There was a lot at stake for God Forbid with their release of Equilibrium, but if there is one fact surrounding this album, is that it is unquestionably diverse. So many sounds, influences and directions are happening on this album that, whether you like or dislike it, it’s pretty hard not to find something to appreciate. With so much going on within this one single album, listeners will most likely find any number of things to be kept busy nitpicking about, either positive, negative, or both. The diversity of Equilibrium warrants multiple listens, which could even reinforce possibilities of listeners enjoying the album futher and having songs grow on them. Three years of work and innovation have yielded a truly unique album for God Forbid. Equlibrium is both a good starting place for open-minded metalheads that are new to the group and looking to familiarize themselves with them, as well as an album that God Forbid fans should make sure they add to their collection or library ASAP.
Final Score: 3.75 out of 5 (B/B+)
Recommended if you like: Shadows Fall, Darkest Hour, Chimaira, Lamb Of God, Unearth