Just under four years ago, Haste the Day played what many (including themselves) considered their final live show, on the heels of their last full-length, Attack of the Wolf King. It appeared to be all over for the Indiana natives, until 2014 rolled around. To commemorate the tenth anniversary of their breakthrough debut, Burning Bridges, the original lineup played a reunion show. At the time it seemed to be a “one and done” sort of thing, but eventually the Christian metalcore giants would announce an IndieGoGo campaign to fund one final release with a mixing and matching of members from the band’s tenure. Thanks to the overwhelming support of their devoted fanbase, Coward became a reality. Now, this reality has come to fruition.
Between the technical guitar parts and the “melodic” screams of latter-era vocalist Stephen Keech, the ferocious opener “Begin” feels like the logical successor to 2010’s Attack of the Wolf King in more ways than one. The vocal duties are then handed over on “Take” to original frontman Jimmy Ryan, whose high-pitched gutturals layer nicely over top of the fast pace and intense drum beats. Add to that a chorus with gang vocals, and the evident hardcore influence shines through. The record’s first full-blown instance of melody follows on the lead single “World,” where Keech returns to center stage. Longtime guitarist and vocalist Brennan Chaulk makes his first appearance on the chorus, which is also incidentally the first completely-sung section of the album. This gives “World” a retro-Haste the Day feel, while maintaining that signature metalcore sound so characteristic of the band’s latter years.
The breakdown-laden title track keeps the blood pumping before its calm instrumental ending. Chaulk and Keech band together for the chorus of “Lost,” the former supplying his pipes and the latter pulling double-duty. “Lost” peaks during the bridge, before a siren-like guitar effect ends things. Much of the atmospheric “Reconcile” is instrumental; that is, until Keech’s piercing screams reappear for the track’s final third. Perhaps the most abrasive tune on the entire record comes on Ryan’s return to vocals. “Shadow” has an eerie mood to it, and is set in a slightly off-kilter ¾ time signature. In many ways, “Shadow” seems more akin to Ryan’s other musical outlet, the experimental post-metal act Trenches. The last notes linger for a second before the song fades into nothing.
“Fail” starts out as a fast-paced hardcore tune before evolving into a more melodic-oriented track as it progresses. Chaulk’s singing in the chorus melds well with the instrumentation, despite its breakneck speed. The original Haste the Day lineup takes over for “Accept,” a song that sounds like it was plucked straight from the When Everything Falls sessions, but still fits in surprisingly well with the rest of the album. The meshed vocals and fiery guitars of “Secret” help it stand out, placed perfectly as the second-to-last track on the album.
“Gnaw” starts off feisty as ever, but things don’t really heat up until Ryan joins Keech and the two provide vocals together. This serves as the perfect lineup for every Haste the Day fan, as some preferred Keech’s sound and others were partial to Ryan’s. Here, both are an integral part of the song. “Gnaw” builds until the breakdown of all breakdowns ensues, a vicious ending which slows down dramatically to enhance the effect. Bassist (and the only member who lasted the band’s entire tenure) Michael Murphy even goes as far as saying that it’s the heaviest breakdown the band has ever written. The final note of Coward is piano keys struck at the very end of “Gnaw,” a fitting way to close the record.
On Coward, there’s a fantastic sense of finality. After all, it’s the last hurrah for the band often considered one of the best in Christian metal. Nostalgia aside, Coward is still a phenomenal effort with minimal flaws, if any at all. For metalcore, it really doesn’t get any better than Haste the Day’s farewell. Coward is continuity and disorder; it is beauty and chaos. Overall, it’s the best possible way to close the chapter on Haste the Day’s career one last time.