Upon finding a suitably steamy batch of manure (preferably fresh from the bowels of an herbivore), the dung beetle will fashion it into a ball and roll it forward in a straight line over any and all obstacles. I recently watched a video in which a number of rather ambitious dung beetles pushed their respective fecal orbs up a small sand hill. Mysteriously, only one was able to conquer the dune, and it arrived at the peak swelling with pride in its feculent creation. With shining carapace it looked down at its beetle brothers - all pushing identical dung balls, but for some reason failing to clamber to the top.
Chelsea Grin is the ascended dung beetle. Apparently hailing from a magical land in Utah where guitars have only one string, they have somehow emerged from the droves of indistinguishable deathcore acts to relative popularity, likely with the aid of some unnamable cosmic force bent on the rape of Our Beloved Lady Metal and the theft of Her purity. Their latest album, Ashes to Ashes, offers you nothing more than what you'd expect: a cringe-worthy hour of brainless/shameless chuggery so disgraceful that my wife (Her Majesty Mrs. SteelDragon) pleaded with me to change her Spotify account to "private" before playing it.
Even when the music is listenable I consider a 58-minute runtime to be excessive if not self-indulgent. Here it's actually offensive. Chelsea and the Grins are determined to cram Ashes to Ashes' unfortunate duration to the brim with hackneyed breakdown after hackneyed breakdown, likely pandering to the base instincts of their deeply confused demographic. To their credit, they cater to their fans: teenage girls will have something to scare their parents with and many invisible ninjas will fall to the squishy fists of sweaty life-duds in the moshpit. For those of us with more than a single brain cell, however, there isn't much to enjoy here.
Each throwaway riff serves as little more than a brief separator - a necessary nuisance to get out of the way before they can move on to the next breakdown. And they make no secret of their eagerness to do so, as most of their life-spans are pathetically short. The only remotely headbangable groove in the entire album, found at the beginning of "Pledge Allegience," survives for five whole seconds before being snuffed out by the dreaded chugmachine.
The fact that this music is undeniably witless does not necessarily mean that these boys can't play their instruments. There is, arguably, some degree of technicality on display here. However, the sweep-picked arpeggios so haphazardly included come across as a hamfisted attempt to prove something, as if to remind the listener that they can use the high strings, but prefer not to. These occasional, quasi-technical passages are aimless and spring up completely devoid of context, reflecting the skill of the guitarist much less than a fundamental inability to compose.
Alex Koehler contributes his "talent" in the form of generic deathcore vocals and evidently uses poems he stole from the diary of a neglected 7th-grader as his lyrics. Most of it is just the same tough-guy dross that dullards like him have been regurgitating since the early 2000's. Look no further than "Playing with Fire" for Pulitzer Prize-worthy literature such as "Burn. Burn. Burn, burn, burn. Let's burn this bastard to the ground."
What's worse still is the band's occasional self-important attempt to transcend what their genre is by definition (i.e., moshbait). They aim for uplifting and meaningful but land flat on their faces somewhere between trite and embarrassing. It's difficult to elicit any emotional response beyond uncontrollable laughter when your lyrics have the subtlety of a freight train but the impact of a wet fart. "Dust to Dust..." showcases Alex's sensitive side with such self-aware lyrics as: "I stare from my window looking outside. Sometimes I wanna just die." "Letters" repeats this four-part cliché at least two million times: "We won't be pushed or shoved. We won't give up on love. It's time to take a stand. And take life by the hand." Truly painful. I'm left astounded that there are six people on Planet Earth that passed off on these lyrics, or anything else on this Crom-forsaken album.
It could be that Chelsea Grin doesn't know any better. To the dung beetle, the dung ball is everything. It is its food source and its brooding chamber. It knows nothing beyond it. And so it is reasonable that the dung beetle stands atop the hill with such high regard - proud of its product, proud of what it has accomplished. At the end of the day, however, it's still just spherical shit.