Metal in this millennium has become so fractured that it's impossible to keep all the developments straight. Each genre of metal continues to further subdivide itself, and each of those new scenes spawns its legion of imitator bands, to the point that there are so many bands playing so many forms of metal that assembling them into some form of coherent knowledge of what metal is today feels much like the proverbial story of putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. Bands all over the world take the shards of metal that have splintered off and combine them in as many ways as they can think of, but the end result is always that there is still some piece of the puzzle missing. Even if it is only the dust that grinds off as fragments tear and rip apart, it is essential to maintaining the connection between metal and the fan, something that no amount of technical wizardry can replace.
I mention this because A Hero A Fake is a band that does everything that a modern metal band should, but it feels as though there's something missing from the music, a hole they don't know how to fill. “Mechanical Heart” proves their metal worth, bursting out of the gates with plenty of Meshuggah-inspired polyrhythms and strong growled vocals. It follows the modern metal blueprint to perfection, except that when the song ends, there is nothing about it that comes to mind. The riff in the middle of the song that divides the composition is wonderful as it comes along, but forgotten by the time the next track begins. The complete lack of anything melodic taking the forefront is responsible, rendering the song a pummeling not unlike listening to someone hammering a string of nails into a board.
The overt need to be as metal as possible fades with the remaining tracks, but even then, the melody throughout the album feels like a veneer slapped on to include another genre in the checklist of influences the band cites. “Dead And Done” introduces clean singing, but it is buried enough in the mix that I can't help but think the band would rather not have included it at all, but doesn't want to be considered strictly death metal. Likewise, the out-of-nowhere soft middle section in “Port Hole” is included for the sake of being progressive, even though it is not organically integrated with the sections surrounding it. Sadly, it feels like a heavy metal game of Mad Libs.
While the songwriting has questionable moments, the execution is flawless. Guitarists Eric Morgan and Patrick Jeffers run the gamut from deeply technical passages to melodic runs, never missing a note. Their playing is sharp, and above the material they are playing. Justin Brown shows skill with his vocals, utilizing versatility in his harsh approach to keep everything from being one wall of noise. The combination of musicians comes together best during the heaviest moments, faltering when the sound opens up and melody is called for. The end result sound like a band that grew up listening to extreme metal, who never learned how to write melodies in the classic style.
The other issue at hand is that “The Future Again” is a blink and you miss it affair, barely approaching half an hour. Being brief is always a better alternative than overstaying your welcome, but the album feels so short it's almost difficult to take it seriously as a full-length record. Black and death metal bands routinely make such short albums, but the overwhelming impenetrability of the music requires a restrained listening experience. A Hero A Fake is not one of those bands, as their attempts to blend melody into the songs shows, which makes the length more of an issue than it otherwise might be.
“The Future Again” is one of those albums that you don't want to criticize, because you can see the talent the band possesses, but in the end you have to, because you know how much is being wasted. If the band committed to being an extreme metal outfit, or worked harder to integrate better melody, they have potential to make very good music. Straddling the line, as they do here, isn't doing anyone any favors.