Greg Woodin waxes lyrical about Counterparts’ The Difference Between Hell and Home, hailing it a modern hardcore classic
The Difference Between Hell and Home is a modern melodic hardcore masterpiece by a band at the very top of their game. Somewhat ironically, the first song I heard from this album was its last track, ‘Soil’, which was shared on my Facebook timeline by a musician whose taste in music clearly aligns with my own. I decided to give it a shot, and immediately I was hooked: the song’s lurching, metamorphosing opening, virtuoso drums and emotive screamed vocals drew me in from the get-go. And just one minute into my virginal Counterparts experience, the highlight of the entire album arrived at my ear drums, as the most beautiful, heart string-tugging guitar melody I’ve heard erupted from my headphones in crisp, clear tones. From that moment, I was sold.
So I had to go back to the beginning and listen to the album in its entirety, and it did not disappoint. From the moment the dissonant guitar chords that signal the start of ‘Lost’ swiftly nosedive into the song’s hard-hitting first verse, I knew this album was going to be something special. ‘I spent my life trying to find my confidence / and I found absolutely nothing’, screams vocalist Brendan Murphy as a drum fill transitions into a section fusing melody with breakdown intensity. The band may have been guilty of this on past albums, but it’s clear on TDBHAH that Counterparts were not content to rely on uncreative, cookie-cutter breakdown sections in their songs, and this decision more than paid off. The breakdowns on this album are far from predictable, and far from derivative, venturing into odd-timed territory on multiple occasions. The only ‘standard’ breakdown moment here comes on penultimate track ‘Slave’, which is punishingly, skull-crushingly slow. It is not an exaggeration when I say this song will make you want to punch your nan in the face, so keep her a safe distance away before playing this song through your stereo.
‘At least I can say I tried to cherish / every single day when I woke up / and didn’t want to die’, Murphy confesses on ‘Witness’, and you get the feeling he means it. Depression is as much a part of TDBHAH as its mournful guitar leads and off-beat breakdowns, and Murphy pulls no punches in his depiction of a life constantly pulled in the direction of despair. It’s a striking departure from the optimism exhibited on the band’s previous effort The Current Will Carry Us, and it’s a change that results in some some of the most affecting moments on the album. From unrequited love on ‘Debris’ (‘I tried my hardest / but I couldn’t make you feel a fucking thing’) to his grandfather’s diagnosis with Alzheimers on ‘Ghost’, TDBHAH is relentlessly bleak in its lyrical outlook. In fact, the only (arguably) uplifting moment here derives from Murphy’s near-exultant ode to the process of death itself on album centrepiece ‘Decay’: ‘Over-saturated, our lungs fill with the essence of the universe / until we feel the gentle kiss of dawn draw the water from our lungs / and we can breathe easy / like night and day’. Easy listening it is not, but Murphy’s willingness to engage with these issues with complete, often painful honesty is one of this record’s many strengths.
And throughout the album guitarists Alex Re and Jesse Doreen provide the perfect backdrop for Murphy’s tales of loss and disenchantment, never vying for attention but occasionally popping up with a tasteful lick or melancholy chord progression to drive the song forward. Eric Bazinet and Kelly Bilan also put a shift in on bass guitar and drums respectively, thundering forward at breakneck speeds armed with breakbeats galore. No one here tries to steal the show; with this album the band stumbled upon the perfect balance, allowing each member’s considerable talents to shine simultaneously. ‘Compass’ finds this equilibrium struck most perfectly, which even features some singing (‘I promised I’d never let you go’), all its instruments coming together to propel the song into yet more emotional territory. It’s one of the album’s many highlights.
I’m finding it difficult to say much more about this album, because in all honesty, TDBHAH does not reinvent the wheel or do anything too left-field. There is no backstory to this album I can tell to make it seem that much more powerful; no dramatic events that foreshadow any of the themes explored in the album’s lyrics. But on TDBHAH, Counterparts did their thing, and they did it well. It’s a testament to the strength of the musicianship and songwriting here that this album continues to live on in my memory as one of the best albums I’ve listened to. I’ve listened to this album countless times since I first discovered it on my Facebook timeline that fateful day, and it’s still as cathartic and as powerful as it ever was. ‘We leave only footsteps that fade away in time’, Murphy reminds us on closing track ‘Soil’. Well, Murphy, you and your boys left us this album – surely that’s worth more than footsteps.