Artist: When Forever Ends
Release date: 4/15/2022
Reviewed by: John Wesley
Representing the humble yet emerging city of Waco, TX, When Forever Ends leads the march of the modern metalcore assault with their new EP titled Leviathan. Previously a 4-piece with their debut effort Return to Your Rest, their vocalist Hayden announced his departure from the group in July of 2021 leaving the remaining 3 to carry on the vision of Christ-centered and glorifying pit-inducing metal that sports the quite impressive technical abilities of guitarist Caleb, bassist Jake and drummer Brennan. Followers of WFE had to wait eagerly to see what the trio from Waco would come up with next.
Musically, Leviathan picks up naturally where their debut album left off but with much better audio production. Caleb Radle, the band’s guitarist, still shows his technical prowess but holds back more on this effort to let the songwriting breathe a little bit. The riffs on this EP are catchy and in general, more sinister sounding. Jake Sanchez lays down a thick bass tone that has a nice “dirt” sound with complimentary sub-movement to round out the mix nicely. Brennan Butts continues to make very interesting and fitting drum parts. The group is tighter and laser-focused in the realm of songwriting than they’ve been in the past. Now the big question, who is the guy behind the vocals this time around? None other than Ben S. Dixon, a Virginia native who is a one-man act you can count on releasing a new song every month or two it seems. He is best known for his worship and classic Christian music covers in a metalcore (or at the very least, heavier) style to give power and strength to well-known songs often sung in church along with his own writings. Ben handles most of the vocals for this project and I must say, he is the perfect fit for this project. His lyrical delivery is varied quite liberally with low growls, hardcore style yells and shouts, fry screams and soaring cleans. I almost wish he would just join the band officially but his role in this EP can be best thought of as an extended guest appearance that lasts the whole time. Caleb and Jake contribute their clean vocals as well sprinkled throughout. This album was produced by Jack Daniels of War of Ages. Now on to the track-by-track review.
Track 1, Arbiter, wastes no time. With a mid-tempo drum pattern coupled with catchy guitar hooks and Ben’s incredibly convincing, passionate vocal delivery, the listener’s attention is captured and ready for a pleasant journey. The chorus of this song may be the best in the WFE catalog. I absolutely love the chord progression and how the melody interacts with it. It’s not a typical metalcore chorus. There’s a simple yet catchy melodic movement that shares with both save and dissonant scale-interval relationships. This is what makes a great chorus; tension and release. If there’s too much tension, it becomes hard to remember and loses impact. On the other end if there’s no tension, it becomes stale and boring. I could go on and on with how much I love this chorus. It’s my favorite part of the song as you can tell.
Jack Daniels is featured as a guest guitarist for a solo just after the 2-minute mark. My only real gripe with this song is how long-winded this solo is. It’s about a minute long over the same chord progression. There’s not much dynamic change throughout it either. No question Jack Daniels is crazy talented but I didn’t find this section of the song complimentary to the rest of this otherwise amazing track. Before we move on to the next track, I wanted to point out some of the lyrics. Ben has always dedicated his writing style to be very theologically sound and Christ-focused and he keeps that tradition throughout this EP. Some notable lines in this song I found well-done: “Why be reluctant to pray / To the restorer who covers the fallen with grace / In His great Love He saved / Bridging the gap poor decisions of old have made” and of course the chorus which declares “I am the author / I am the arbiter / And I hold you in the palm of My hand.” Wonderfully written. Overall an incredibly solid opening to this EP and after many listens will probably stand as my personal favorite on the release.
Track 2, Wicked leans on a hardcore-style influence with truly a punishing track dealing with the depravity of mankind. With lyrics like “Look through the history books / Deceitful men performing corrupt deeds / Cut to the chase, cut to the heart / Desperately wicked” and We do what’s right in our own eyes / It is our nature / We call the good, evil / Evil, right,” this song addresses how fallen we are as a human race and it is reflected in our culture by praising evil and shunning righteousness. This is a shorter song that seems to fly by. I wouldn’t have minded another minute added on to it (haha).
The track fades in with a dissonant guitar lead and explodes with a slow breakdown-esque rhythm supporting Ben’s signature growls. The rhythm changes in the verse with a faster drum beat and the bass pummeling on through. The pacing throughout this short 3 minute song changes quite frequently but in a complimentary way. Nothing seems imposed or forced on this track which I find exceptionally rare with bands who like to constantly change tempo or pacing. This is a very well done track. I did, however, find the chorus a little too safe considering the dissonance established in the first half of the song, but it doesn’t last long enough to alter the overarching purpose the artist was wishing to achieve. Ending with a crushing breakdown, the fans get what they itch for and this short yet very purposeful song comes to an end.
Remittance is the next track and I like to think of this song as the faster and even more mature version of track 1. It sports a similar flow and direction in the first minute and a half and then it cools the dynamic down a bit and goes into this very satisfactory groove section with a call-and-response type narrative weaving its way through the soundscape. After a shreddingly (it’s a word now) gorgeous guitar solo we get through the meat of this tasty sandwich and hit the bottom slice of bread. This is my symbolic way of pointing out the ABA (loosely) song structure Remittance has. The chord structure of this song is simply wonderful. Every voicing is calculated very nicely. The pacing is also practically perfect. If I didn’t love the chorus of Arbiter so much this would be my favorite on the EP.
Lyrically this song illustrates God’s refreshing power onto a person who is once again asking to to draw closer to be more like Him. Some stand out lines for me: “Rebuild this faith in me that You started when You found me” and “The walls keep closing in, nothing’s making sense / Oh how the storms rage on / Oh how many questions / Lord keep my eyes on You.”
The title track Leviathan follows. Though short, this is a very unique track which features the vocal talents of Caleb’s wife Julie. Accompanied by a haunting soundscape paired with a simple and moody guitar arpeggiation, Julie’s vocal parts illustrate the appearance of the beast from the sea described in the book of Revelation beautifully so in under 2 minutes. These 2 minutes really sets you up for something big and I was a little disappointed the track didn’t continue on longer but as we will discuss in the next song, it was meant to set up the conclusion of this brief journey.
We now arrive at the end with Deathworks II. There is a song called Deathworks on the previous album so you can expect a continuation of the ideas presented there. Appropriately, this song also sounds the closest to their style from the previous album. The main riff after the build-up sports a classic Caleb technique where he “bend-taps” large intervals on the fretboard. A super cool solo comes later right before a crushing breakdown. There are keyboard parts that surround this breakdown that hint to a similar musical expression from the previous track. In my opinion, this song could have been fleshed out more. Perhaps it needed to be longer, especially with the heavier parts. There’s a great dynamic contrast in this song around the 3-minute mark to set the stage for our final guest appearance, Garret Russel of Silent Planet. His iconic voice is delivered very well for his feature and no one can deny the sheer emotion he puts in to convey a very elevated artistic expression. Bravo, dude! The song does get heavier again afterwards and then fades out with a curious keyboard and synthetic choir part.
Lyrically this song is a declaration that evil will once and for all be taken care of and those who are marked by salvation will be restored. A standout line to me: “Have you given in to the fight, on an aimless path no guiding light / Oh facade your end draws neigh, appearance of life dead bones inside.” We must be serious about our faith with confidence in our Savior. The message of WFE is quite clear: to boldly proclaim salvation and remission of sins for those who repent and believe. It doesn’t get more clear than that.
The concepts and delivery of the songs for this EP absolutely demand more. I hope there is a part 2 or something that continues the ideas here. WFE has demonstrated songwriting and technical maturity to give us a small batch of well-crafted material every fan of modern metalcore would love to spin. Ben S. Dixon did a fantastic job on the vocal delivery as did Jack Daniels with the audio production. Leviathan is a job well done overall and I look forward to what their next step is. For now, they deserve to enjoy the positive reception for all their hard work especially considering the line-up change and life in general in 2022.
Overall rating: 8/10
Favorite song: Arbiter (with Remittance at an extremely close second)
For fans of August Burns Red, Silent Planet, Oh, Sleeper