Style: Hard Rock
Release Date: 12 Mar 2020
This album kicks in like a radio rock show that we're not quite tuned into, but turn the dial to hear better once At Breakpoint come on. That's cool and it's a good way to start the album. I'm not sure we needed the same approach on the next song too, but hey.
At Breakpoint are a hard rock band on their debut album (following an EP in 2017) who hail from Hafnarfjörður, just south of Reykjavik. They're about as different from my previous Icelandic review as can be comfortably imagined, given that that was of a funeral doom metal band called Andvaka. That said, this group would play rather well to a metal audience, even though they're clearly rock rather than metal, because of the way they handle the back end.
These songs are rooted in melody with the vocals highest in the mix. Gunnar Björn is a rock singer, even if he has a very memorable vocal fry, as if he can magically transform his chords to sandpaper as and when he wants.
When in sandpaper mode, he could be seen as a alternative rock singer with a host of comparisons to American alt rock vocalists, mostly to modern bands that I don't know and thus would need my kids or grandkids to identify. The band's Facebook page mentions trendy bands like Bring Me the Horizon and Paramore, whose singers, I imagine, might sound like what Björn is doing. When in the smoother mode, he's very radio friendly in more of a pop vein. There's even a hint of autotune on the final track, appropriately titled Not OK.
However, the band behind him have a lot more than their toes dipped into the modern metal scene. They never want to blister or shred, but they are tuned down and drive the songs with patient riffs, the tone moving up and down the heaviness scale quite a long way in either direction. 3 Lines is easily the heaviest song on offer and, the heavier the band get, the more they tend to remind a lot of a slower, more mainstream Clutch.
What's impressive is that the most catchy songs include Not OK and 3 Lines, so the poppiest one with a hint of autotune and the heaviest one. That's the biggest success of the album, that this can feel both utterly commercial but also agreeably heavy at the same time, without ever really moving from rock into metal.
And that's pretty much all I can say about this album. The lighter songs do all the same things as the heavier ones, just with the heaviness knob turned down to some degree. In other hands, Without You would be a ballad, but here it's not really any different from 3 Lines except for the fact that it's not heavy while the other one is. We're used to volume knobs that make something quieter or louder. At Breakpoint have the same thing for weight.
I should mention the band members, as they make this seem rather effortless when it surely isn't. Beyond being the vocalist, Björn also plays guitar but Rúnar Þór is the lead guitarist and he's a highly patient one, deliberately avoiding the urge to just take over. Pavol Ingi plays a reliable bass. Anton Búi is the drummer, who's as patient in his way as Þór. What I'll take away from this the most is how restrained it is, how these musicians stayed with their plan to nail the groove they wanted without anyone really showing off. And that's why it grew on me.