I’m sure you all agree, so I won’t hesitate to say that 2019 was a fucking maddening year. Chaos seemed to lurk beyond every corner, and it’s hardly surprising to see so many dark, twisted records drop during such a time period. But 2019 was not all fear and shadow—in fact, the latest EP by west coast screamo outfit To Be Gentle blatantly defies that notion, carrying a positive and uplifting message atop a sea of stormy, undulating instrumentation.
True to the band’s name, L’autre Côté de la Peur moves with both grace and beauty. The guitars spindle through arpeggios in a fashion reminiscent of Mineral, before grating out panic chords and low-tuned chugs. To Be Gentle spread complicated and exciting time signature changes between the more conventional 4/4 sections, using syncopation to double down on the tension built into their tunes. Dynamic shifts are also sewn all throughout the fabric of this record, the band interspersing long periods of negative space between vicious and explosive riffing.
With every listen, the emotion inherent in L’autre Côté de la Peur becomes only more palpable. The performances are visceral and raw, yet technically precise; I have no trouble imagining this band raging through these tunes onstage while landing every note and hit. Even the sound of the strings seems to shift along with the tune’s emotional content, guitar tones and effects mirroring the energy of the lyrics—the outro to “Insurmountable” begins with gritty, brutish palm mutes, only to drop clean and bright melodic picking between them, completely changing the aura of the riff from brooding to bright as it is played.
Despite the meticulous attention to the guitar’s shape in each song, it’s not even the focal point of the instrumentation on L’autre Côté de la Peur. Rather, the spotlight belongs to the drums, which use the backdrop of the strings to truly pull the compositions along. A stuttering kick drum, blastbeats, and chaotic rolls dictate each tune’s energy level, while cymbal patterns and fills change so quickly, the drums might as well be the lead instrument. Never before have I heard a drummer so forefront in the composition, maintaining rhythmic obligations while coloring each tune with plenty of powerful beats and dynamic movement.
I could (and have) listened to To Be Gentle’s instrumentation for days, but by far the most striking aspect of L’autre Côté de la Peur must be its lyrical content. In stark contrast to the fury and gloom so many screamo bands like to wallow in, this band takes a record about fears and fills it with largely positive, uplifting writing. Songs like “Insurmountable” and “The Thought of Losing You Terrifies Me” certainly deal with heavy subjects, but the lines “I love you just the way you are right now” and the simple but poignant “I forgive you” push that darkness far into the background in favor of positivity and light. “If You Are Reading This” offers a love letter to any and every person who ever stumbles across the song, a concept so utterly refreshing and pleasant to experience in a world where we all feel too often at odds with one another.
Between emotional performances, intelligent writing, and some of the most evocative drumming I’ve ever heard, L’autre Côté de la Peur is absolutely a record worth your time. To Be Gentle are stretching their sound far beyond the current borders of the screamo genre, thus redefining its shape and sound as we know it. Their blend of heavy-hitting composition and optimistic-despite-all-odds lyricism take a style known for its darkness and pull it into the light. Where the light leads I do not yet know, but if To Be Gentle will be our pied piper towards it, then I am already a faithful follower.
My Top Track: “Insurmountable”
L’autre Côté de la Peur is out via Missed Out Records and Larry Records. You can buy a physical copy from Bandcamp (if they aren’t sold out already), or stream it on Spotify. For all things To Be Gentle, follow them on Facebook.