by S. Winters
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Souls go to heaven, while metal will rust.
Infant Island, a five-piece screamo band from Fredericksburg, Virginia, made serious waves in the scene with their 2018 self-titled debut. Its atmospheric, shoegazey vibe garnered strong praise. Now, Infant Island are returning with their sophomore effort, entitled Beneath. Every aspect from their debut has been improved upon: instrumental performances are cleaner, vocals insistently tear through the mix, and the album’s overall sound is less clouded. The group’s songwriting has matured, too—Beneath’s songs experiment further toward post-metal and black metal, while retaining their screamo roots. The album’s stunning cover artwork is shown below; it’s a re-worked version of a piece by 19th-century painter John Martin. We come to realize, venturing through Beneath, that this artwork is a pristine visual representation of the album’s rich, tranquil-yet-desperate auditory scenery.
Daniel Kost and Alexander Rudenshiold share vocal and lyrical duties on Beneath, and their trade-off searing screams discuss personal insecurity, anxiety, and despair, all of which characterize the ever-worsening political and climatological status of our world. Logan Rivera of Florida screamo icons Gillian Carter contributes his frenzied yell on “Content”, wondering “Where will I go when the power goes out? How can I provide?” Fear of an uncertain future is a recurring theme on Beneath, but at the same time, Alex’s lyrics seem to provide a sense of security. Even though we do not know how things will turn out, the universe will make its way, as it always has. Beneath’s lyrics weave an all-too-familiar tale of uncertainty, desperation, and pain… but at the same time, they bring peace through our acceptance of our own fragility.
The instrument-playing members of Infant Island come together on Beneath to create a gorgeous landscape. Austin O’Rourke, the band’s drummer, also lends his musical talents to the album’s orchestral portions and its two vivid interlude tracks. His drumkit sounds devastating on this record—whether he’s playing a traditional blast beat or smashing through a heavy 6/8 groove (a time signature which appears frequently on Beneath), Austin brings a new level of percussive mastery to the band. In addition to sharing vocal duties with Daniel, Alex is the band’s primary guitarist. His thick tone and melodic creativity place emphasis at just the right points, and his riffs play wonderfully alongside bassist Kyle Guerra. Winston Givler, a member of Infant Island’s sister project smallhands (and who has since joined Infant Island full-time), contributes guitars on “One Eyed”, as well as some claustrophobic noise elements on “Here We Are”. The time and effort Infant Island’s musicians have dedicated to developing their respective arts is made fully apparent on Beneath, and fans of the bands’ older material will notice their evolution.
Infant Island are at the forefront of innovation in modern screamo, alongside portrayal of guilt, Senza, Frail Body, and many others. A veteran screamo listener will notice Majority Rule as an influence on Beneath’s sound, which may partially be due to their former frontman Matthew Michel’s engineering and mixing work on the album. Infant Island have never been content sticking with the tried-and-true screamo formula, and Beneath showcases the band’s refusal to conform. Elements of black metal and post-metal shine brightly in Infant Island’s sound, allowing many tracks to burn with an intensity rarely heard in screamo. On the other hand, Austin’s ambient interludes are reminiscent of the serenity of nature, and they act as the album’s oases. Retaining a strict genre is no concern for Infant Island, and Beneath is the beautiful manifestation of the unobstructed growth this freedom allows.
No fan of screamo, post-hardcore, or any adjacent style should allow Infant Island’s Beneath to pass them by. On the day the band announced this album, they also released a surprise EP entitled Sepulcher. Its angular .gif from god-esque metalcore stylings are a far different beast, but it should be considered essential listening for fans of Beneath. Though their discography only stretches back to 2017, Infant Island have firmly established themselves leading the pack of the new wave of screamo, and Beneath sees them further discovering their unique voice.
Beneath releases on May 15th, 2020 via Dog Knights Productions. Head over to Infant Island’s Bandcamp page, where you can listen to three advance tracks and pre-order the album on 12” vinyl or cassette.