In the metal sphere, being heavy isn't always enough. It garners a more enthusiastic thumbs up, granted, but there need to be components besides crushing breakdowns for a record to keep the attention that it reaps. Distant, a band well versed in building ten-foot high walls of impenetrable sound in their deathcore territory were often on the wrong side of that coin in debut Tyrannotophia, but three years later we have a brand new album to hold up to it and see how far they've come.
On first inspection of Heritage, it feels like the band opted for a different direction entirely in response. Opener "Acid Rain" is a probing, atmospheric breathing exercise when lined up against anything they've done before, though the sci-fi theming that the album cover promises is plenty strong. But then guitars and drums start howling on the aptly named and practically violent "Paradigm Shift" and all hell breaks loose, the album turning into a swirling cacophony of unstoppable fury until the last second ticks down.
The pace Distant set in the following eleven tracks is remarkable, each seemingly heavier than the last, each breakdown more brutal than before. Cleverly though, compared to their last outing, the background tweaks help break up the play, without losing an inch in the battle to blow your face out of the back of your head.
The squalling guitar punctuations in tracks like "Exofilth" are like miniature electric shocks that stop the sound becoming monotonous, while sparse soloing in the otherwise toweringly heavy "Orphan of Blight" creates wave-breakers that anchor you while the world collapses about your head. Some of the flicks and tricks are so subtle that multiple listens are practically required, improving the experience every time you run it back.
The vocal talents of Alan Grnja continue to amaze as he hits everything from pig-squeals to low-end guttural ferocity with every stop in between – bone-crusher "The Gnostic Uprising" or the low and slow boiling pit "Born of Blood" being likely the best showcase examples of his range. The album as a whole puts heavy emphasis on it, though occasionally at the expense of muddying the sound behind it beyond the point of being able to pick out the finer elements.
While that vocal focus is apparent throughout, it's no more obvious than on "Argent Justice," a track that might single-handedly kick off some sort of Deathcore Cinematic Universe. With no less than twelve(!) vocal contributors from bands like Suicide Silence, Angelmaker, and Emmure, it's a veritable who's who of the entire scene and creates a situation with no end of character, even if the song itself feels too heavily weighted in places.
Well-rounded without losing sight of their down-tempo roots, Distant have made mighty uphill strides towards finding their final form in "Heritage" featuring Will Ramos of Lorna Shore. Relentless and dominating, it leaves precious little space in your ears or your brain for the entire runtime; though the length of the thing might be a sticking point for anyone who needs to take more than one breath in an hour.
It's clearly not for anyone who doesn't already live knee-deep in the deathcore sandpit, but it is a marked improvement on their previous full length. Tighter, more consistent and still absolutely punishing, Heritage is an album that will turn more than a few heads in Distant's direction.