Thoughts on the early days of AbD, Deathcore, and more...

Five years may not seem like much, but sometimes, looking back, it seems like an eternity.  Part of it is the pace at which I write material; it accelerates the evolution of a band or project I think, and makes a release from just a few years ago seem like ancient history.  The other part of it, I suppose, is that I live a pretty active lifestyle and have had so much going on in my personal life.  At times it's all a blur.  But here we are, working on the third full-length AbD album (on top of two EPs, a single, and a split), almost exactly 5 years after I began the project.  And holy fuck, AbD has come a long way.

Agony By Default is predominantly known as a melodic death metal project that kinda bounces around with elements of black metal and symphonic metal at times, and of course random other shit thrown in once in a while just because that's what I do and I don't give a fuck. I write what I feel like writing. But once upon a time in a faraway galaxy, Agony By Default started out as a deathcore band.  The first release, the 2014 demo/EP The End of Hope, was pretty much straight up raw melodic deathcore with some elements of slam and groove metal mixed in.

Deathcore has sort of become like, this weird elephant in the room with a lot of metal fans.  Even some of the best original deathcore bands have distanced themselves from the label and aren't even really deathcore anymore; admittedly I followed suit as well.  I think it's sad, because there's some awesome deathcore out there, but honestly it's not without reason.

My roots are in traditional/melodic death metal, black metal, grindcore, etc.  But when deathcore first emerged, I'm not going to lie....I fucking loved it.  The early first/second wave deathcore bands brought an attitude, a brutality, a combination of concepts that blended so perfectly.  It had been a long time since metal had seen something that new and fresh...and fucking catchy (but without being fucking weak).  It was awesome.  I was still playing black metal and some melodic death at the time, and was still really developing my own writing style, but I was pretty hooked and started incorporating it (deathcore) into various side projects and demos (all of which sounded fucking terrible, but whatever.  I still had a pretty black metal attitude towards everything at that time, including production...plus I didn't exactly have great gear as a poor college kid).

As with anything though, once it got popular, it became a trend, it became a scene.  It became the dominant force at mainstream places like fucking Hot Topic; it attracted all the emo and punk and metalcore kids, and it eventually lost its edge.  New bands started bringing clean singing, whiny yelling, and catchy pop choruses into it.  Bands started regurgitating the same fucking riffs over and over again.  They stopped playing solos. They also saw the effectiveness of "the breakdown" and took it overboard...playing entire fucking songs that were one giant, 3-minute-long breakdown all to themselves.  Retarded drama, scene infighting, etc. took over.  As quickly as deathcore arrived, it fucking imploded upon itself.  It lost all its brutality, all its edge, and all of its talent.

(I feel like it's important to note that I was guilty of some of this.  None of us had the foresight to realize where the shit was headed.)

I was a bit late to the party.  I didn't really get my shit together enough to be able to record a "decent" sounding demo until 2014...well after the scene collapsed (in my mind, anyway).  That demo, EP, whatever you wanna call it, was The End Of Hope, which I had started writing in 2013.  I was still pretty proud of it, even though it was still raw as fuck and borderline irrelevant at that point.  But that was technically the beginning of Agony By Default.

I went through a lot of bullshit in my personal life and walked away from music for quite some time, not picking things up again until almost the end of 2016.  By that time, I had lost all interest in deathcore and didn't even really listen to it anymore.  What I did hear on occasion sounded like pop-deathcore or heavier metalcore to me....it just wasn't the same.  Although I do harbor a small amount of guilty pleasures in some of those bands, it certainly wasn't the "deathcore" I knew, and I certainly didn't want to play that shit.  To be honest, I was burnt out on the older deathcore too, as both a fan and a musician, and wanted to branch back out without being grouped in with all this newer shit.  And I had zero interest in being involved in the "djent" offshoot that had come about thanks to some deathcore bands trying to be Meshuggah, but that's kindof a side note I guess.

I went back to what I knew and loved...straight up death metal, black, grind, etc.  My writing style had changed and matured, I switched from 6 /7 string guitars to 8 string guitars, I started writing in different keys, and I went back to my roots.  And that's where I've stayed. 

I did write a pretty deathcore-ish song for the debut album; "Shallow Grave" was a simple, straightforward, downtempo song that was reminiscient of some of the stuff on the old EP. I wanted a straight-to-the-point banger somewhere on Genocide. But that was pretty much it.  That song, although smack in the middle of the album, might as well have existed on another planet and in another era from the rest of the release.  And I've never revisited that style of writing.

A lot of bands went the same path that I did, abandoning the "-core" sound and even shunning the scene completely.  I certainly wasn't the first; as we all know some of the heavyweights from that first wave very quickly realized that shit wasn't going to last and they wanted to do other things, and they didn't want to be categorized with some of the retardedness that started to come about.

Personally, I've never cared much for over-classification and over-subgenre-ing.  And you like what you fucking like; there's nothing wrong with that.  I have plenty of guilty pleasures that would make elitists cringe and want to kill themselves.  But overall, deathcore very quickly became something that I didn't want to be a part of as a musician, and I didn't want AbD to be known as that type of band.  Not just as a style of music, but as a part of that scene in general.

I still listen to a lot of deathcore; I don't give a fuck.  There can be a bit of a separation sometimes between what I listen to as a fan and what I want to play as a musician.  But I'm guilty of being a bit of an elitist about it myself, and most of what I listen to is old news and ancient history for the genre.

(Having said that, I will say that I've discovered a few newer deathcore bands that don't take any fucking prisoners, and they subscribe to the old-school deathcore thought process and show no weakness and no fucking mercy.  I hope they keep on keepin' on.  But overall, the scene is lost in my mind.)

So yea, that's part of why there's such a huge contrast between that early demo and the rest of AbD's stuff, and why I honestly consider Genocide for Survival to be the "real" beginnings of Agony By Default.  As a general note, I kept the name Agony By Default because I didn't want to start over yet again; brand-building and promotion is already hard enough without having to start from scratch with a new "project" every other fucking year.  And I have absolutely fuck-all no regrets about that early EP (other than maybe the production).  It was fun and that was my opportunity to do something in that style, and that's where I was at at the time.

And like I said, there's still some awesome deathcore bands out there.  It's just not my thing anymore as a musician and hasn't been for years...and as a fan, I really, really dislike some of what the scene turned into.  But the bigger point, though, is that I didn't want to be stuck in a specific style or genre....especially not one that had started to cannibalize itself, become fragmented, and wilt into a shadow of its former self.  I wanted to move forward and go back to what I truly loved doing, and I wanted to be able to evolve without any kind of stigma attached to my name.

Ultimately, for me, my heart is and always has been in more traditional forms of extreme metal.  I value atmosphere, melody, solid composition, riffing, etc., and there's so much more flexibility and ways to express oneself musically (and lyrically) when you step outside of a box like the one deathcore kindof pegged itself into.  In the end, I just want artistic freedom, and I wanna write some tunes that express how I feel, what I'm going through, etc. Deathcore in and of itself, as a style, often doesn't do that for me anyway.  And the deathcore "scene" taught me much of what I really should have already learned in my younger days from the black metal "scene" (another discussion entirely, one which will come later), to be honest...when you paint yourself into a corner and try to do something specific, and when you try to stay "true" to a particular sound or musical philosophy, you lose all artistic freedom.  You also get caught up in a lot of bullshit and drama that takes away from the music, and you get lumped in with other musicians and concepts and such that you don't wanna get lumped in with...and it becomes stigmatizing.

This isn't meant to bash deathcore, old or new...it's kindof just an explanation of why my direction changed so drastically...and also why "scenes" and trends are stupid.  Just do what you want.

 

-Matthew