Metalcore is a tough set of shoes to step into. Being neither wholly metal or wholly hardcore stipulates that each of the two strains will, to some degree, have to be implemented piecemeal during the writing process. To be sure, if a band's metal chops are average, respective to the particular genre, and their hardcore chops are average, the resulting fusion cannot elevate the two halves. If a band is to fuse disparate musical approaches, novel textures and unconventional ideas are vital for the product to float.
While How It Ends' sophomore effort Beloved offers up a consistent listen, a good deal of its material lands squarely in waters which metalcore has not merely explored, but has come to employ ad infinitum. Moments on Beloved marble the disc with phrasings that defy the mold, but occur with a frequency that is insufficient to break it.
The opening track, "11th and Arch", illustrates this point well. The opening 48 seconds dole out decent, cone-splitting hardcore, alternated with afterthoughts of mid-tempo thrash phrasing--- and then at 0:48, a pattern which remains a predictable constant, throughout the recording, jumps front and center--- the ever-ubiquitous "chug-a-chug-a" groove jam, a la Pantera, Machine Head, and "Roots"-era Sepultura. The open low is palm muted and, along with the bass, plays the exact rhythm beaten out by the bass drum. Despite the resources of two guitarists, the presence of lead-work and dual harmonies are altogether negligible--- another malady which commonly afflicts the "metal" side of many metalcore outfits.
Of course the recording clearly contains periods veering from this formula, but the band simply defaults back each time the song perceptibly craves a rompy breakdown, and mercilessly relies on predictable variations of the open low palm mute--- a dangerous tactic which unquestionably helped bring nu metal to its knees not too long ago. This pattern establishes a firm presence, predominantly in tracks "Words to K", "Life and Death", "Medicate", and the mid-section of "Under My Own Breath" (though the relatively melodic, metal-imbued opening makes use of a decent, free-handed, crunching swing feel).
To the band's credit, other moments stand out for the better. "Life and Death" churns out a well-placed lapse (1:50) into an enjoyable flurry of thrash riffing. "Blue Skies" motors along with an interesting grind-groove opener, complete with swing feel and creep-count. "Walking Wounded", is an excellent track, with its up-speed, opening bolts, oblique break down, and follow-up hardcore charge. The changes are cornered nicely, and executed sharply. "Conscript" holds up to this ideal, with its alternating blizzard between thrash riffing and hardcore exclamations.
Verdict: Beloved falls more to the tastes of the burgeoning hardcore kid, than it will to the heavy metal fan. Its collective body of tracks further fishes upon those seas long-since chartered by post-1986 hardcore acts at large, as well as those bands who led the charge for the 1990s groove metal explosion. That this sound might strike today's metalcore fan as novel only means they've found the driveway to the same house. It's just been painted a different color.