Independent metalcore band, Upon the Water, released their first full-length album called U.T.W on April 2, 2021. From Temecula, California, Upon the Water has burst onto the scene, harnessing strong ambient and melodic elements in their songs that are large enough to hang with the other metalcore standards like Silent Planet or We Came As Romans. What immediately becomes clear is that Upon the Water is not a band that is inclined to sit by and watch. Their sense of purpose and the messages that they scream set them apart from other similar bands. Ranging from topics such as human trafficking to the mental effects of alcoholism, U.T.W delves head-first into many issues that plague our world, though never in a preachy manner.
Upon the Water is made up of Kendall Thompson on vocals, Willie Malpica on Drums, Theo Phillips on bass, and Justin Joseph on vocals and guitar. Impressively, U.T.W doesn’t stop there with the inclusion of talent. U.T.W also features five guest appearances, including Sam Laponis of Marked;Life, Cody Vanhoozen of Particles Like Planets, Dana Willax of Kingdom of Giants, and Garrett Russell of Silent Planet. With the many talents of several industry professionals, poignant lyrics, and a strong musical backbone, U.T.W is a powerful debut album, securing Upon the Water a firmplace in the metalcore catalog.
U.T.W hits the ground running with the song “Denied.” Ambient and progressive elements help distinguish their sound. Punchy guitar chugs give way to straining melodic choruses and bellicose breakdowns. The contrast of gnarly screams and soaring melodies are a staple in the metalcore genre, and Upon the Water keeps up the trend with their own unique flare. Thompson’s screams on the record are top-notch. Even in the lows, his vocals are bright, providing a nice contrast to the warmth of Joseph’s clean voice.
Just like the balance of screams and singing, the music contrasts itself with massive riffs and beautiful ambient pieces, where the electric guitars are soaked in reverb. When the softer moments come they are always welcome, creating a breath of fresh air while adding a sense of grace that counterbalances the aggressive rhythms.
The song structures break the mold and go against the traditional pop structure. They are mostly asymmetrical, giving the album somewhat of a progressive feel. I greatly enjoy the deviation from the standard as it makes the listener wonder what comes next and allows Upon the Water to tell the stories and messages they want to tell in the way they want to tell them. I was also pleasantly surprised to see how many guest appearances are on this record, especially that of Garrett Russell from Silent Planet.
A great example of all the elements I’ve mentioned above is in the song “Soli2de.” The track naturally flows, part leading to part without circling back again. “Soli2de” begins with a strong syncopated rhythm, the rhythm guitar, bass, and drums locked together in unison and overlaid with an echoing guitar lead. The intro gives way to the first verse where Thompson’s screams take the forefront. A frantic prechorus leads into a large melodic chorus and Joseph’s clean vocals shine through. The post-chorus punches through afterwards, featuring epic “whoas” in the background as the tight rhythm section pushes the song onward. The onslaught fades out and a calm, shimmering instrumental takes its place. However, the respite doesn’t last for long as thundering guitar chords break the silence and the guest vocals of Sam Laponis take the stage with force. The guitar lead from the intro makes a return under the vocals until it all fades out.
Though the music rivals that of any modern metalcore band, what makes Upon the Water stand out amongst their metalcore peers is their lyrics. The songs don’t hold back on emotion and realism, preferring to actually deal with life’s big issues, scaling from personal tragedies to global atrocities. Some of the songs are ambiguous, allowing the listener to take on meaning for themselves, such as the metaphors found in “Rise”. Other tracks are specific, like “Fire” which struggles with alcohol and substance abuse.
One of my favorite tracks on U.T.W is “Remembrance.” The lyrics in this track are so personal and vulnerable that it’s hard not to get teary-eyed listening to it. From what I can tell, the song talks about the guilt of losing a loved one and not being there for that person in the end. The first verse reads: “Love went cold, buried you / Starved yourself to feed the wound / I mourn the burden I refused / I forced your ghost to guide me through.”
In my opinion, the best lyrics are found in the track “Bones.” The song is both beautifully written, yet the message is in-your-face. It engages in the conversation about human trafficking, addressing the “listener,” the “buyer,” and the “victim”. One of the verses reads as follows: “Their marrow’s worth more / Than your weight in gold / Yet you feast and consume / Diamonds bruised / Changing people to currency / Can’t you see their beauty / Beyond price tags? / My heart breaks with every exchange / For every one saved, 27 million remain.”
The examples I’ve mentioned are just a couple of my personal favorites and I would highly encourage my reader to dig deeper into more of their songs. Their lyrics were not hastily written, but were instead penned with purpose and forethought.
My Final Thoughts
If you can’t tell by now, I love heavy bands that put deep meanings into their songs, more than just vague emotions or cliched troubles. I admire Upon the Water for writing vulnerably about themselves and for bringing awareness to real world issues that most people would prefer to not think about. Musically, I love how U.T.W combines heavy blast-beats and ambient grooves. At times it reminds me of other artists like Periphery, one of my all-time favorite bands.
My favorite tracks from this album would have to be “Denied,” “Bones,” “Soli2de,” “Remembrance,” and “II.” I know that’s half of the album, but they’re all that good. The fact that Upon the Water is an unsigned band blows my mind and makes me want to support them even more. I highly recommend that my readers give this group a listen. Support talented musicians and support messages you believe in!