In many ways, Counterparts is the bane of my existence. I don’t mean to cast shade on the band itself– it’s apparent that they are a very talented group– but there are enough elements of misrepresentation surrounding their music (and to be fair, missteps in the music itself) that makes the art feel all but tenuously connected to its context. Counterparts’ third album, The Difference Between Hell and Home is marketed as metalcore and melodic hardcore, the former is fairly appropriate but perhaps reaches a little further than it needs to, and the latter is a confusing misdirect. This is melodic hardcore for those who can only take the name in its most literal sense, not for devotees of Bad Religion or 90s skate punk apologists. The truth is, Counterparts play hardcore in the modern style, and while they are undoubtedly talented musicians when they want to be, the music they play is in constant danger of collapsing under the weight of its own tropes.
While this may sound like a fiery indictment, I have to temper it with the admission that The Difference Between Hell and Home isn’t a horrible album. Cynically, I could also say it’s not great either, but the thing is, when Counterparts aren’t indulging in the hardcore trends de jour, they’re actually a pretty decent band. Without the over reliance on chug-a-chug breakdowns, and perhaps a more nuanced approach to vocal melody (as it stands, the singing is used infrequently enough to beg the question, “Is this an elements of your sound, or are you just trying to write a single?”), The Difference Between Hell and Home could’ve been a classic.
One thing that Counterparts definitely does have going for it is riffs. Throughout the album, the fretwork is top notch. “Lost” is as great an example as any, opening the album with a bevy of busy, metallic riffs that make for a killer first track. “Ghost,” the follow-up, is a similarly strong song, with even heavier riffs but unfortunately lapses into a chug-a-chug breakdown a little too soon to prevent eye rolling. Sadly, this is one of the most prevalent trends on The Difference Between Hell and Home and subtracts heartily from the experience.
“Outlier” is where the album missteps to the greatest degree, by its inclusion of the understandably hated clean-sing breakdown. There’s nothing wrong with melody in hardcore, but it has to be used wisely. Nothing feels more pandering and inauthentic, especially in today’s world of Hot Topic music culture, than the forced juxtaposition of the raw and poppy. Worse still, is that it only happens once on the entire album. Admittedly, a part of me is thankful for this fact, but it unfortunately does give the album a sense of identity crisis. When coupled with the emotionally honest, practically spoken word “Decay,” The Difference Between Hell and Home feels like two completely different albums.
Counterparts are talented musicians. You have to be to write a song like “Slave.” It’s killer, and on an album of what is essentially pretty good hardcore violated by its own overabundance of cliche, it’s a fucking revelation. I can’t stress enough that Counterparts are essentially a good band. I can hear their immense talents seep through even their worst decisions, but unfortunately it’s not enough to make The Difference Between Hell and Home a good album.