June 10, 2014 - Red Bull
First things first: Yes, Caleb Shomo is the former vocalist/synth op of crabcore progenitors Attack Attack!, which means you likely already have a strong opinion one way or another regarding his music. (Despite the strides they made in metalcore—ultimately pushing the genre forward—Attack Attack! were really great at being hated.) However, making any comparison, positive or negative, between AA! and Shomo's new project, Beartooth, is totally misguided: The two bands sound nothing alike, and that's a testament to Shomo's seemingly bottomless well of creativity.
Disgusting, like its extended-play predecessor Sick, was created from the ground up solely by Shomo—he played all the instruments, sang all the vocals and twiddled all the knobs, resulting in an absolutely exhilarating listen, the kind of punk record a hardcore kid can back and the kind of hardcore record a punk kid won’t turn down. It’s the middle ground between the bombastic nature of A Day To Remember and the wink-and-nudge swagger of Every Time I Die, with an elevated level of pop smarts absent from most newer heavy bands. Chalk that last bit up to John Feldmann, who previously worked with Attack Attack! and signed Beartooth to Red Bull. He likely had a hand in guiding Shomo toward some of Disgusting’s more pop-oriented moments (the chorus of “In Between” in particular has Feldy’s fingerprints all over it).
However, just because Shomo isn’t afraid of throwing in an earworm here and there doesn’t dull the impact of Disgusting’s heavier efforts. The two-minute “Dead” is a guaranteed circle-pit starter, rotating through double-time passages, straightforward verses and plenty of breakdowns. The anti-suicide screed “Body Bag” is a total rager, with four-on-the-floor drumming leading to Shomo bellowing, “One life, one decision!/Make sure it ends with you still living!” (Emphasis and punctuation added by me, though it’s hard to not cap every single lyric on this record with an exclamation point.)
Many of Beartooth's songs carry strong messages; beyond “Body Bag,” there’s lead single “Beaten In Lips,” which tackles the topic of child abuse, where he encourages victims to “keep living loud and proud/They never can hold you down.” Closing track “Sick & Disgusting” seems to revisit similar lyrical ground, as Shomo repeatedly pleads, “Daddy, I don’t wanna be sick and disgusting,” through layers of feedback and his own tears, closing the album on an incredibly dour note. “Relapsing” and “I Have A Problem” deal with alcoholism, an issue Shomo has publicly commented on before. The moment in the latter song when the instruments drop out for Shomo to yell in a broken voice, “I don’t know about you, but I’m admitting now that I have a problem,” is chilling in its honesty. When you realize Shomo is only 21—and has been living the touring-band lifestyle since he was 15—you have to wonder how many more demons still reside in his head that he intends to work out through song.
In a way, Disgusting is the hardcore album Andrew W.K. hasn’t gotten around to writing yet—like I Get Wet, it’s an album that sounds deceptively simple, built off of huge, multi-tracked guitars, massive sing-alongs and gang vocals, that when taken at face level delivers adrenaline to the listener but when delved into deeper, a darker side is revealed. Still, when you push through that pain, pleasure is discovered. As Shomo sings in “Keep Your American Dream,” "I wanna live my life to the fullest/Make the most out of being young/And when I'm laying down on my deathbed/I'll be proud of every story told." There’s no reason to question him.