Spiritbox is the best modern example of how an excellent marketing campaign, genuine grassroots support, and smart sonic tweaks can lead to commercial success in what is perhaps the most commercially unforgiving times to be a metal band. After their eponymous EP established them as the successors to Tesseract and Periphery’s long held prog-metalcore/djent throne, they began teasing us with singles that while still heavy, hinted towards an overall more streamlined sound. Slowly, through word of mouth, they started to gain traction. Vocal covers were appearing on Youtube. React channels got ahold of both “Holy Roller” and “Constance”, dissecting the nuances of Courtney’s vocals (apparently in 2022 a woman screaming is still a shock to some). They were becoming an cultural phenomena. When they finally announced their first record, Eternal Blue, it felt like the something the whole heavy music community clamored over. The promotion for that album – magazine features, multiple music videos and singles, – extended for almost year’s length and did rub a few people the wrong way, but overall was a success; when Eternal Blue was released, it debuted at #13 on the Billboard Charts. Not only that, but the end of the year accolades were many, with many major music publications ranking it the best metal album of the year. They had ascended to a higher, near mainstream stratum of popularity.
In comparison, Rotoscope almost seems like it was purposely handled in a way that was a response to Eternal Blue’s drawn-out premiere. Announced and then released within just hours of each other, Spiritbox made a brief social media post hinting at 1 song, and then delivered an unexpected 3-song EP. What a treat! Or, it would have been if these tracks didn’t comprise the weakest in the band’s discography. Much like their contemporaries, Spiritbox have embraced a very nu-heavy sound, which, in itself, is not an issue; in something of a redemption arc for the sub-genre, the last decade has seen many bands incorporating the tuneless chug of what was once metal’s most maligned offshoot. No, instead the issue is simply that these tracks are just not very good. “Rotoscope” is easily the best song of the bunch, even though its industrial-based foundation – cheap electronics and mind-numbingly simple riffs – goes beyond beating a dead horse. It’s still a decent synthesis of djenty heaviness and nu-metal simplicity, and probably would have benefitted from being released alone. On the other hand, both “Sew Me Up” and “Hysteria” utterly fail to capture the chemistry between Spiritbox’s roots and where they are today. The former adopts essentially the same, boring, one-note choppy riff as “Rotoscope” without the redeemable chorus. You can tell Courtney was aiming to achieve a Chino-esque ethereal quality in her vocals here, but they are too weightless and flutter into the sky without leaving any lasting impression. “Hysteria” is perhaps the track that sounds closest to the material on Eternal Blue, but even then, it would have easily been the weakest song on the record. It builds to a breakdown that was supposed to be the EP’s big mosh moment, but the flaccid start-stop payoff makes it feel more like waste of time than something worth waiting for.
Fans make this excuse for disliking a band’s new material all too frequently, but the biggest offender of Rotoscope is viewing in real time as everything that made Spiritbox so exciting slip away right in front of our eyes. The issue is not their catering to the Octane Radio and Liquid Metal crowd, it’s that here at least, they’ve failed to do so in a way that capitalizes on their almost prodigious talents. Hopefully Rotoscope is not indicative of Spiritbox’s plans for the future, or we might be forced to see them fall from grace faster than they got there.