The term hardcore quickly became diverse enough that sometimes many sub-genres are required to describe a band’s sound. West Coast? DC? Beatdown? Skate Punk? And then there are newer branches to spring up in the new millennium, such as post-hardcore, metalcore, or like British act Landscapes, melodic hardcore, and their newest release Modern Earth.
The terms “melodic” and “hardcore” seem like a misnomer together, but the intersection of the individual words is a very apt description for where Landscapes dwell on Modern Earth. The vocals are a mix of spoken, shouted, and screamed, with occasional “clean” vocals, but even those are gruff and gravelly. The music is atmospheric but driving – focus on the rhythm section: even when the guitarist is noodling away, the bass and snare are sharp and mixed up front. You can space out to it, but you can also mosh to it just as easily. British and American hardcore have also had their stylistic differences: while Landscapes hail from England – and vocalist Shaun Milton has a fairly thick accent – their musical style is far more American, similar to acts such as Thrice and Pianos Become The Teeth, but borrows far heavier vocals from acts like Defeater or Code Orange.
Landscapes opens with a twinkling instrumental intro, leading into “Observer.” This song will definitely give you a taste of how well Modern Earth will appeal to you: the vocals are emotional and intense, often veering into unhinged screaming, but they’re very different from hardcore shouts or metal screams. And the music is moody and dark without being particularly heavy. In fact, throughout the album, Landscapes often contrast the vocal wailing with gorgeous guitar soundscapes. If it doesn’t immediately turn you off, you will likely enjoy the entire album. The opening guitar riff on “Death After Life” could be used as a lullaby, but in contrast, Shaun Milton’s rasp hits maximum British, recklessly slurring and growling his way through a careening, emotional roller coaster of building intensity. To top it off, the chorus is the hookiest of the album, and the three elements come together extremely well. My only critique is I feel it would have been stronger later in the album, as the slow start kills the momentum from the end of “Observer.”
“Embrace” is a mid-tempo rocker. It’s very representative of the album as a whole, but it doesn’t have any additional element to make it stand out. “Remorser,” however, is extremely memorable. The slow, doom-laden instrumental build could be taken from a later Brand New album, but the vocals are an extremely detached, inflection-less spoken recital… until the end of the song, where Milton cuts loose with some of his most deranged yowling over the song’s gentle but triumphant crescendo. “Neighbourhood” carries that vocal intensity into a tune that isn’t necessarily heavy, but is very intense. “Escapist” once again has a very atmospheric, creepy intro. And on its own, it’s still a good song, but it feels kind of like a remake of most of the previous tunes, all the way up to the crescendo at the end.
“Aurora” offers an interlude of sorts, with atmospheric noise in the background as a poem is recited. “Radiance” jump-starts the album again with the punkiest riff, sounding very similar to early Thrice. The music alone makes this an album highlight, but the vocals are excellent as well. “Transient” is carried by a furious but very rhythmic vocal performance over an instrumental equal parts moody and hooky. Closing tune “Heaven Ascended” is a cathartic finale. It doesn’t contain any surprises – soft start, building intensity to an emotional high, and soft fade-out is one of maybe three templates bands everywhere use for closing songs – but it doesn’t have to surprise when it’s done this well.
Landscapes have something good going for them on Modern Earth, but the same strength contained in many of these songs is also the album’s biggest weakness. On the plus side, they have made a very well-crafted album, and then filled it with tons of beauty and detail. These songs are art. Unfortunately, like many types of art, unless you are really into the details, some of the individual pieces start to seem very similar to each other after a while.