Thoughtcrimes is just cool. The product of an act assembled by former The Dillinger Escape Plan drummer Billy Rymer, Altered Pasts isn’t your typical Converge-core “three minutes of incomprehensible shrieking and feedback” aesthetic. While it has its fair share of blasting rhythms and jagged tempo shifts reminiscent of mathcore’s toddler approach to keeping time, the band has infused it with dynamics. In recognizing that extreme music is just an endless din if it’s not given the room to breathe in crescendos and diminuendos of solid songwriting, Thoughtcrimes have constructed their sophomore effort carefully, though they’re also not afraid to blow your face off at every appropriate opportunity.
Rymer’s repertoire with The Dillinger Escape Plan saw the releases of Option Paralysis, One of Us is the Killer, and swansong Dissociation. Far removed from the chaotic Calculating Infinity, Thoughtcrimes represents this more balanced approach in sophomore full-length Altered Pasts. Rounding out the act as a quintet with vocalist Rick Pepa, guitarists Brian Sullivan and Russ Savarese, and bassist Cody Hosza, as well as Rymer on drums and guitar, you can expect vitriol and insanity aplenty with just enough melody and atmosphere to go down smooth. While the record might play it a bit too safely in a scene where safety is far from a selling point, its emphasis on dynamics and rock-solid performances put Altered Pasts a step above the rest.
Although much of mathcore feels as if it’s about to fly off the rails at any given moment, Thoughtcrimes feels calculated to the finest detail. Expertly balanced between The Dillinger Escape Plan and Deftones, Altered Pasts waltzes between mathy eruptions and brimming alt-metal tension. Tracks like “New Infinities,” “Altered Pasts,” and “Lunar Waves” take what made White Pony so effective, building magnificent crescendos out of whispery baritone until they burst with chuggy explosions that would feel at home on a Frontierer record. Meanwhile, “Panopticon,” “Dare I Say,” and “Keyhole Romance” are unhinged beatdowns complete with rumbling bass and pick slide abuse. An interesting aspect of Altered Pasts is the inclusion of trip-hop beneath contemplative plucking passages in “Panopticon,” “Mirror Glue,” the title track, and “Lunar Waves,” which add to the tension. This is an odd choice for a mathcore band, but thanks to the instrumental precision, ironclad songwriting, and Pepa’s insanely charismatic vocal performance, it ends up a supremely listenable experience that adds to the smoothness of the album. To boot, Altered Pasts benefits from a very favorable production and mixing quality: Pepa’s Chino Moreno-esque vocals are just audible enough to burst through with vitriol, while the guitars and bass are given a nice fluidity that never compromises heft, and the drums punch through with ease—no instrument too loud or domineering.
The majority of Altered Pasts plays at 4.0 quality, smoothing jagged riffs and frantic screams with silky vocals and atmospheric instrumentals, sweetening the pot with each movement—even if it is played a little too cautiously. This is what makes the second act a bit of a disappointment. On one hand, Thoughtcrimes finally cuts loose and indeed flies off the rails in “The Drowning Man,” “Conscience on Tilt,” and “Deathbed Confessions,” but these catharses are damned by distracting cleans in particular, and they lack the balance that pervaded earlier tracks. This does present a dilemma for the act, as Altered Pasts’ best songs nonetheless feel as if they’re playing it a bit too safe; however, when they cut loose, it feels too disorganized to make an impact. “Hai un Accendio” is also an odd inclusion, as it’s a spoken word interlude whose purpose is a bit questionable, as it does nothing to add to the overall mood of the album.
Aside from three tracks and an odd interlude, Altered Pasts is just a cool listen. While relying heavily on a backbone of mathcore insanity reminiscent of its mother project, or that of acts like Pupil Slicer or Converge, the record tempers the jaggedness and edge with a smooth alt-rock and trip-hop presence. While not entirely unique, the band accomplishes more in two albums than Toothgrinder ever has, and shows smart songwriting with a kickass sense of fun that rarely spirals into mindless violence. Paying homage to the Deftones without sacrificing its roots of blasting insanity, Thoughtcrimes offers mathcore’s version of a Manhattan: smooth and balanced, with just enough bite to get the job done.