Divide et Impera
EYES WIDE SHUT
Like the Green Lantern making absolutely certain that everyone within earshot’s aware of the fact that his one weakness is to the color yellow, I too must proclaim my own peculiar fragility. Actually, I’ve alluded to my vulnerability to flattery a few times in these posts already but I’ll emphasize it again: do me right with some hot, sweet plaudits, friend, and you will have your no doubt unwholesome way with me. No, it doesn’t work with everything, per se; you do have to survey my squishy spots a bit first but few volleys have proven more capable in the dismantling of my defenses these days than those that pertain to my writing. My theory? We’re most susceptible to flattery when the ingratiating language hinges on something that we’re not entirely confident in regards to. Confess to me about how a wine lecture I’ve delivered changed your life, inciting you to pursue the narrow, and relatively steep, path of a sommelier and I will dearly wish you well, yet I remain unchanged by the ardor of your words. In this arena, I’m sage-like; unmoved and composed. However, whisper that you read a piece of mine and dug it? Shit, now I’m a yucky wad of putty in your sorry hands—that will now require some serious scrubbing, meaning your hands, not the putty. I’m all yours. What do you want? Need me to kill someone? I mean… I really, really shouldn’t because of statutes and right vs. wrong and all but, you really dig my writing? Hey! What if I don’t ‘kill’ so much as horribly, irreparably wound the person in question? Then everyone’s happy!
Heavy Lies the Crown
So. here’s an example of my dispiriting pregnability: Roughly three years ago I was contacted by a band’s agent. The band in question: Conquer Divide. The agent: hmmm, their gmail no longer works so never mind this shadowy field agent. But the message roughly goes: Conquer Divide is an all-female metal band with a killer debut album in tow. We dig your work in dB, really appreciate your approach and think you’d give these ‘guys’ the fair shake they deserve. An interview would be preferable but to have your opinion encapsulated in a review would work for us wonderfully as well. That’s all we’re asking. No dancing around the ring regarding gender. No punches pulled. Your take; we trust you.” And I proudly puffed up my chest like a righteous, idiot and said “Ma’am, yes, Ma’am!” Because, as it turns out, I’m the hero this city needs.
However, as it should happen, the man that pulls the levers for the platform that I answer to, the one who tolls the no foolin’ Deci-bell wasn’t sold. I can promise anything to anyone but at the end of the day, a promise is merely a statement of intent. Breathing that statement into being is a whole ‘nother bowl of Werther’s Originals, Chief. It’s just a receipt, not the thing itself and quite easily wadded up and discarded. Herr Mudrian kindly informed me that it would sadly be a hard, decisive pass on the band in question and I proceeded to dodge incoming queries as to the time and format of the ‘upcoming’ piece like the total boss baby I am.
And yet, quite inexplicably, Conquer Divide has remained on my mind. The physical copy of the album—yes, the agent in question went to the trouble of mailing their CD to me—has continued to elbow its way to the fore of my immediate ken, like a cork inflexibly lunging back towards a waterway’s surface. Blup! Through divorce, a move and the shuffling of the proverbial deck of all that damnable, silly stuff a body acquires over the years, this one disc has remained near at hand. ¿Por qué?, I ask?
Spoiler alert: I wasn’t remotely enamored with the music; I had and maintain serious criticisms. I likely would’ve awarded the album a five out of ten if given the latitude to do so. I’ve intended to give it away a number of times and simply… haven’t. I decided to donate it to my local Goodwill as I have so many other items that I’ve dislodged from their protracted hibernation in my old attic, but always thought better of it at the last second. Once, after a surreptitious late night drop of odds, ends and one plucky lil’ compact disc in the Goodwill’s parking lot—they really hate it when you do that shit, btdubs—I found myself bemusedly turning around to take the CD back into my bewildered custody! Just couldn’t let it go. What the fuck, Conquer Divide?
So, to exorcise this quietly tenacious demon, I’m going to acquiesce to that very old request and write about it—just a teensy bit. God willing, this will break its wretched thrall and not a moment too soon.
On the donkey-humping disaster popularly referred to as ‘the internet,’ Conquer Divide have been righteously dunked on many times for their moniker alone. Conquer Divide? Ridiculous, am I right? First you divide and then you conquer. We’ve all heard it that way, ergo, that’s the way it goes. Any aberration is ‘dumb,’ or ‘gay,’ or ‘unacceptable,’ (do I have that right, internet?) Well, sorry guy’s but I can’t play with you in your disgruntled, piss-rimed sandbox. I’ve no idea why Conquer Divide are called what they are and I don’t much care. Way back when, I cared far more stridently that Katatonia and Kreator spelled their names wrong. The Beatles? Now that’s a dumb fucking name. And who doesn’t dig the Beatles?! Celtic Frost! Heroes, right? Trailblazers and apex predators of the genre. Their name might be shittier than Conquer Divide’s! It’s usually ‘divide and conquer’ but here we’re reversing it for whatever reason. Yeah… I think you punters are nitpicking idiots. The question is: why the need to siphon wellsprings of irritation from this particular outfit? Read into their detractor’s commentary a bit further and the actual paternity of their exasperation generally comes into focus: they don’t find these young women attractive enough to earn their support, only their rankle. Again and again I stumbled blindly into queues that ranked Conquer Divides internecine ‘hotness.’ So fucking mindless. It reminds me of a saying of author/motivational speaker Earl Nightengale’s: If everyone said exactly what they thought, most people would be completely speechless.
Okay, so now I’m irritated and am determined to abandon my old opinions and adore Conquer Divide just because screw you bastards and your myopic, atavistic double standards. I’m ready. Let’s do this shit.
Awww; this still sucks! Why aren’t I listening to Deceased right now? Or Thantifaxath or Queensrÿche? I’ll take any other album really, it doesn’t matter. And also, is there such a thing as crummy Deceased? It’s all pretty good, right?
Wait! Wait, wait… I’m going to see this shit through. Conquer Divide are genuinely good players, after all. I guess my issue largely comes down to simple stylistic/aesthetic preferences. I don’t remotely dig As I Lay Dying, Asking Alexandria or friggin’ Flyleaf—that is to say, ‘mall metal.’ They don’t figure into my musical diet; I think they all taste pretty yucky. That said, Conquer Divide also run in a similar orbit to Katatonia and Scar Symmetry’s, both of whom I can absolutely hang with. This isn’t so bad… Plus, the recording’s meticulously buttoned up. Drums sound incredible, especially the snare and toms. In fact, departed drummer Tamara Tadic is this outfit’s MVP, bar none; she smokes. Additionally the guitars flaunt an impressive dialogue between themselves without really every wandering into a terrain of meaningless flash. There’s a mature restraint in this corner of the band’s game that’s pretty remarkable. Loads of evident value here. It’s just… Oy, these songs.
Look, I always think it comes off as silly when someone’s screaming their head off in a song about a looming breakup or a dissatisfying relationship in metalcore. It takes a meaningful but quotidian subject (you know, Todd can be a real dick sometimes; or, canned peas are half off at Publix) and lights it unsuitably. Death growls don’t fare much better; Novembers Doom frequently shake my interest with their sulky diary entries about how being dumped really, really sux the big one. It’s just a subject that doesn’t translate neatly into certain frequencies for me. But of course with Conquer Divide, there’s the push-pull of their wanton, Taylor Swift-styled sheen versus those metalcore vocals. ‘Clean’ vocalist “Kia” Castillo can lament about anything she cares to and sound pure, vitalized and, of course, super fucking commercial. She has a killer voice, instincts for tightly-crafted hooks and will likely one day be the spokeswoman for Glade air fresheners. Janel Duarte’s metalcore-cum-Bloodlet yelps have far less value in this conversation. Shrieking about a shitty partner is designed by the universe to have precisely one effect: partner exits. ‘Dissatisfied with our relational stream, ma’am? Heard. I’m off to commiserate with yon Glade plug-in, gal.’
I mentioned ‘intention’ in Fallow Heart’s second post, “Hardore Surrealities,” and you should totally read it because it’s leagues better than this one, but also because I honestly believe that Conquer Divide fail due to muddied intentions. Sure, at their best, Conquer Divide button up the whole metalcore-pop endeavor. In fact, if you dig on Flyleaf or As I Lay Dying or We Came as Romans, then I wholeheartedly recommend this band to you. But I suppose that’s why I can’t seem to stop circling around this outfit. Their intention sounds opaque and I feel that they’re letting certain stylistic tropes divert them from their true, unbridled form. I want to break them down for parts.
So, here we go: Ms. Duarte: you’re a child of god and you sound righteously furious. You’ve got a knee-buckling bellow that will serve you wonderfully elsewhere. But absolutely not here; as of now you are deposited onto the cold, cutting room floor. The metal-core trope is inhibiting this band and that’s unacceptable. Conquer Divide seem to think they need to write around you when what they actually require is a far more elliptical compositional approach. Care for proof? Your band’s best song, by miles, might I add, “Broken” doesn’t incorporate your vocals at all. This was an obvious consideration on the band’s part to deep-six the metalcore nonsense on this one track and it happens to be the only instance in which a track on this album really works from stem to stern. Be well, go forth and pronounce your tidings elsewhere.
To those remaining: get on the horn and get your drummer back, immediately. Do what you must. She’s your core. While we’re at it, tighten up those lyrics. Seriously, guys. Maybe you’re merely venting about a former bandmate or whatever, but when you pinch out lines like “…girls like you are overrated” and “without your fake smile, you’d never get anywhere,” your outrage is difficult to appreciate. It just sounds like your tearing down other women and needlessly obsessing over trivialities. Also ‘girls’? It’s women, please. If you’re putting pen to paper to bitch about a literal child, I’d wager dollars to donuts that your Percocet prescription just ran out. Also, way to hand-feed those internet trolls some red meat. Your album’s rife with textual clunkers and needless ambiguities. Give this area some serious attention, stat.
WHAT’S LEFT INSIDE
Now that you’re no longer humoring your old metalcore vice, you guys can begin to compose far more naturally and with a more clarified intent. Your melodic instincts are quite good but you’ve been curbing them with that mallcore ID badge. There’s nothing wrong with rhythmically intricate, heavy guitar-toned pop. Determine who you are so that you don’t waste more than a third of your next release quite literally barking up the wrong tree. And of course, this is merely opinion from some anonymous, troglodytic dude. It just happens to be one that I’ve held now for several years. As time has surgically conquered and then divided me from mine own and then acquiesced to unite me with novel challenges, beliefs and passions, this one conviction has remained unchecked and unblemished:
deckline: ‘divide and rule,’ the politician cries
“Pit race against race, religion against religion, prejudice against prejudice. Divide and conquer! We must not let that happen here.”—Eleanor Roosevelt
“…’unite and lead’ is the watchword of the wise.”—Johanne Wolfgang von Goethe
Rally to Conquer Divide’s defense on Instagram @fallow.heart