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Hopesfall is an alt-hardcore band that had a more metalcore sound 20 years before this review. They were signed to Trustkill Records, an infamous record label that took their own name seriously. This EP, No Wings to Speak of acts as a bridge in the 3-year gap between their debut The Frailty of Words and The Satellite Years. The band's Christian-themed debut is an under-recorded under-promoted album that failed to spread through a greater audience. The EP No Wings to Speak of is a greater display of their earlier work with underground spirit dug into the surface. And when I finally got the chance to listen, it was indeed a jaw-dropping experience!
Hopesfall was part of the rising hybrid band scene that included hardcore bands like this one and the more famous rap/metal hybrids like Hybrid Theory-era Linkin Park. For Hopesfall, they were one of the earliest metalcore hybrid bands, mixing the genre with emo and post-hardcore, and slight hints at the indie rock that would dominate their sound in the mid-2000s and beyond, all in dense sound layers. Despite this hybrid, their main focus isn't on metalcore's moshing chaos, but rather on smooth beauty in their sound. These 4 songs are harmoniously written compositions while still using heavy grooves and breakdowns in the song structures. Heavy but mellow compared to what their previous record label Takehold Records had then. The band stays strong with emotional chords and beautiful riffs overlapped with harsh vocals in spiritual purity.
The opener "Open Hands to the Wind" is not bad at all, but it's my least favorite song and not the best song to start with. It's a less unique melodic metallic hardcore song that seems to rip-off from Poison the Well and Evergreen Terrace, yet a minute into the song onwards, the subtle sublime changes commence so it stays good. That's where I know that the hope for perfection has never fallen! "April Left With Silence" starts with somber groove and discordant melody with pounding bass to spread out throughout at least the first half. Then you get stunned by the heaviness of dissonant chords over melodic riffs like a spring flower blooming on top of a cold winter mountain. "The End of an Era" is the best one here, with nearly 7 minutes of beauty and fury combined. A haunting opening riff turns into a towering breakdown overlapped with bright guitar which, in turn, adds dense chords and fast drums, followed by highly emotional passages, stunning tempos, dark beautiful screams, and finally a soft gentle instrumental passage at the center. So d*mn beautiful... "The Far Pavilions" runs through the snare drum more frantically before ending the album with bright power.
Yeah, I already noticed this band being Christian, and I've heard about their debut album The Frailty of Words being a Christian album. Whether they intended to keep that going, and whether your religion, Hopesfall made one of the most spiritual metallic hardcore releases to this day with No Wings to Speak of! Their music combines elemental metaphors of wind and water, and that's already seen in the bleakly beautiful cover art of black & blue & green clouds. The band has indeed taken on less Christian influences than their debut album, with its simplistic beauty that can almost be suitable for a Buddhist monastery. If you can just take that soft gentle instrumental passage from "The End of an Era" and have it seamlessly repeat without any of the heavier parts, that would be excellent meditation music. No Wings to Speak of is also more suitable for a night drive with yourself or friends than just a live show. With music filled with brilliance, beauty and a breakdown or a few, metalcore youngsters like myself would love it!
Favorites: "April Left With Silence", "The End of an Era"
It feels like ages ago since I discovered Panopticon with their 2015 album Autumn Eternal and how in my early days of exploring the world of black metal, I finally found my niche; this branch of atmospherics to go alongside some gorgeous songwriting, well placed nature interludes and production that is as dark and gritty as the cold as the OG’s of the genre. However, in the years following, I have kind of developed a musical crush for Andy Marshall and Saor and how well that group is able to take its folk roots and implement them effortlessly into the black metal timbre, as opposed to Austin Lunn, who keeps these touches separated.
When I listened to this band's 2018 album The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness, I was a little bit surprised to see Panopticon attempt a full on folk record with its second half. It would be intriguing if those lessons were brought forth on this new album. And part of me wants to say that it is, but another half says that ...And Again Into the Light is more comfortable trying to recreate what made Autumn Eternal so great. And believe me, this album is great, but I do not put it amongst the best that Saor has to offer, or even other Panopticon albums.
And the folk elements are where this album has problems. I already mentioned how most of these elements feel reserved for cooldowns and moments of reprieve before more blast beats, tremolo picking and the vocals. But I personally feel like this album does not fully grasp the Americana sound. Songs like “Moth Eaten Soul” and “Know Hope” have the soaring string sections that hover over the atmo-black passages, but they sound far more European centric than anything American. The lap and pedal steel guitars are always welcome during the albums title intro as well as the interlude “Her Golden Laughter Echoes”, and I wish that Panopticon could have incorporated it more frequently.
Beyond the songwriting, iit does have the distinctive feel of a Panopticon record. It takes a while to find its groove on the second track “Dead Loons”, but once it’s moving, there are no bathroom breaks the rest of the road trip. And like with most Panopticon records, the vocals are so reserved in the mixing that you would be forgiven as to why there were even vocals at all. But like with the last album, Panopticon have gotten on board with the heavy environmentalist dialogue that plenty of metal bands (i.e. Gojira, Wolves in the Throne Room, Between the Buried and Me, etc.) have been espousing recently.
And if there is one thing that Austtin Lunn has been strong at for years now, it has been this. And while the vocals are severely lacking in punch and gravitas in the mix, the heaviness of the instrumentals implies all you need to know. I just wish that Panopticon would take their love of folk and americana music and incorporate it more liberally into their music. I know it can be done and Lunn is one of a handful of individuals that I can think of that could pull this off.
I don't want to come on here and hate on funeral doom. It makes a lot of sense given the crushing atmosphere that is implied by the subject matter that it sounds like a dirge and gives you the crushing feeling of being lowered six feet underground. But holy shit is it boring! And this is not just a criticism of Monolithe, but many of this genre's most influential figures, like Bell Witch and Esoteric.
This album took me three attempts to finally get through it in a single sitting. And trust me when I say this: it was almost a fourth attempt because I was so drowsy and uninvolved in the music that was on display, but I forced myself to continue listening through to its deathly conclusion. I am not opposed to single track albums; Light of Day, Day of Darkness is one of my favourite records of all time. But Green Carnation had something that Monolithe desperately lack, and that is a sense of growth, or in the case of funeral doom, decay. It took this album nearly half and hour before it decided to modulate out of its main theme. Leading up to this, Monolithe waste time by having moments that seem like a divergence from the original theme, but only serve as temporary bridges from theme A to... theme A again. There is so much obvious room for refinement and cutting of the fat that this could have worked, but instead, Monolithe are convinced that long, unchanging atmosphere can win me over, when it actually makes me want to go to bed!
I feel horrible for the drummer in this band who does the bare minimum when it comes to tempo support, and is only able to add some occasional double bass and drum fills whenever its time to feed the cat... and the cat died five years ago. The guitar work is okay I guess; most of the record has a rhythm guitar who just chugs away with the lowest power chords, while the lead guitar sounds more like a continuous solo instead of a melodic lead to compliment the synth and vocals. And while I did enjoy the synths on this album, the vocals are so far back in the overall mix that you would be hard pressed to hear them if you weren't using headphones. And the low end of this album is severely lacking; the rhythm guitar is so prominent in the mix with its power chords that the bass has nowhere to breathe. It makes an album that is supposed to be dense and concaving feel remarkably timid.
For the death doom sound specifically, I am reminded of records like The Call of the Wretched Sea by Ahab and Songs From the North by Swallow the Sun. These albums are long, brooding and atmospheric as well, but these records both had the songwriting presence to lead you down the dark and terrifying path and bring you somewhere that is colder and more isolated than where you started. The Monolithe albums hear the starting gun go off, trip before the first hurdle, and then don't even attempt to get back up and try to finish the race; they stay in place. I'm generally not one to criticize an album that typically receives glowing praise, regardless of genre, but I just cannot tolerate this. If you ever wanted to know why my ventures into funeral doom metal are tepid, I present exhibit A.
Well it has been so long since I last got my hands on an album full of Breaking Benjamin material. With my recent transition to The Gateway after a couple months of planning and anticipation, I now know it's time to say a proper hello to an old genre friend, alt-rock/metal! Breaking Benjamin is one of those bands of that genre, and the album I chose to review that was recently added here, We Are Not Alone is an incredible a**-kicker, showing that the band began reaching higher fame at their second album, not their first or third. As of right now, I'm currently of college-age, and a few people aren't lucky enough to find a band this good until that age. Fortunately, my older brother and I have listened to this band since 2012... Well, at least my brother still listens to them. I was 13 back then, and trying to find a set music taste to run away from the radio pop sh*t I had enough of. For one of the very first rock/metal bands to peak my interest, I was h*lla impressed. The songs from the 4 albums that were released were some of the heaviest (and the first) music to reach my old computer's headphones. And while their self-titled EP and debut Saturate have more of a post-grunge/hard rock sound than alt-metal (which is why they're the only releases still not present in this style), songs from both albums like "Polyamorous" and "Shallow Bay" marked some of the best and heaviest hard rock songs I've heard (probably still are), though I struggled a bit with the strong themes and a bit of swearing (again, I was 13 back then), which I can definitely handle now, so maybe I can have a better chance with those songs soon...
Anyway, We Are Not Alone also had a couple great songs to delight me including "So Cold", the lead single that I would talk about in the next paragraph. Little did I know, Breaking Benjamin and a few other alt-rock/metal bands would be responsible for guiding me to a new light that is my metal interest, though it would be much different from that style. While there are so many people to thank for getting me to where I am, the ultimate person I'm thankful to is my alt-rock/metal-loving brother. I've had an exciting feeling about giving this album a full listen and review, and it has really fit my expectations once I got there. Expect the usual edgy songs with heavy riffs and drum slams. The tone seems more serious than their debut. While still heavy, they have more focus on improvement than complexity, with impressive results...
With no other option, let's begin with the aforementioned "So Cold", a softer way to start the album while still rocking out with the intro and chorus that showcases the band's talent. There's wonderful guitar dueling and rhythmic drumming, the latter with toms and splashes in the verse, more than a water splash caused by a car in the rain, all in momentum being built up. Finally, the bass tightens the rhythm with its groove through the guitars. Wonderful! A track sounding closer to the more conventional alt-metal is "Simple Design", sounding edgy and broken down while built back up with Benjamin Burnley's fantastic vocals. Third track "Follow" continues the strong formula with heavy guitar riffs guiding the vocals through the verses before suspense builds for a heavier chorus. "Firefly" catches my attention with clever vocals sung by unique vocals leading the desirable instrumentation. Excellent one!
Moving on, fifth track "Break My Fall" combines heavy guitar with Burnley's singing in steady motion, a wonderful achievement! Yet nothing else worth writing about there... The next track and the best of the album is "Forget It", which is co-written and guest-performed by The Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan. For a very long time, this remains one of my favorite songs from the band. It sounds so emotional even before the singing starts, with lyrics of lost love and emotion and the song title being softly repeated over melancholic yet uplifting-sounding riffing after the verses. While not the heaviest song I've heard, that one is arguably the strongest and most powerful song of the album and by the band. I don't think my brother would find the best interest there though. While the album is still very good, seventh track "Sooner or Later" is probably the least interesting song there, though the soft tone tries to say otherwise in the verses along with a cool pre-chorus and heavy chorus. Following this is "Breakdown". After a "Fur Elise"-like piano intro, Burnley screams "BREAKDOWN!!!" to begin a hardcore riffing part of the intro similar to the heavy parts of their debut. That should've been a single!
Then we have two more hard rock tracks, starting with "Away". The other song "Believe" sounds like one the band would've made in the late 90s in the first couple years of their formation. The acoustic closer "Rain" is a mellow way to close the album, with the chorus referencing a certain old nursery rhyme. A year later, the band released a full-band version as a single that was later released as a re-release bonus track for this album. It's the band's own "To End the Rapture"!
Breaking Benjamin has done what people think it's the unthinkable for a sophomore album; breaking the mold and spreading the pieces further. They provided a further challenge and added more softness and heaviness than their hard rock debut. This band really knows how to stay confident by expanding their sound while letting their earlier fans know who they still are. It's an unpredictable refreshment! I like it slightly more than nearly a decade ago, and what rock fan would you be without it? Even Saturate-era purists should listen. We Are Not Alone is one of the strongest albums to be more focused on rock while staying metal in my opinion. The band is not alone!
Favorites: "So Cold", "Follow", "Firefly", "Forget It", "Breakdown", "Believe"
It's time to have the BTBAM conversa... wait I did that review already!
Okay, all joking aside, when I posted my review of Between The Buried And Me’s 2007 album Colors only a week ago, I figured that it was important for me to air out what I thought about that album, as well as how it helped shape an entire new subgenre of music that I previously actively avoided in technical death metal.
But when BTBAM started to drop more and more of its tech-death edge with Coma Ecliptic and the Automata album from 2018, the albums became more hook heavy, but lost more of the bands identity from the 2000s. And I was shocked when the band announced Colors II, which implied a return to their technical and metalcore roots.
And for a band that knows how excellent Colors is, is it not surprising that many of that album's most iconic elements are not here? The guitars are not as sprawling, the songwriting feels less developed, and from an overall sound design perspective, Colors II has a lot of empty passages that feel hollow and pad this album’s already inflated runtime.
This album absolutely sounds like fan service; Tommy Rogers has more harsh vocals on this album than anything BTBAM have released since Parallax II: Future Sequence, Blake Richardson is back doing Blake Richardson things behind the drum kit, and the songwriting has a significantly greater emphasis on time modulation and rapid changes through musical motifs. But this time around, this band has the benefit of a pool of lighter sounding progressive metal albums to build from. While the first Colors album was a refinement of the band's progressive/technical sound, this album feels like the band is trying to refine and hybridize their old technical sound alongside their melodic progressive metal of the 2010s.
The only problem is that this album feels too avant-garde and obtuse to be a sequel to Colors. For a band that knows how great an album that is, so much so that they have toured that album in its entirety multiple times, why would they bother with rasta horns on “The Double Helix of Extinction”, or the saturday morning cartoon sound effects on the bridge of “Prehistory”? And on “Bad Habits”, the use of obviously synthetic choirs is alienating and off putting to me. These feel more quirky than thoughtful inclusions (although in the case of “The Double Helix of Extinction” I do not know how rasta horns can be used seriously).
This might be an overly harsh review of Colors II, but I still do like this record. I don’t know if I enjoy it as much as Coma Ecliptic, but it is nice to hear a band that has continued to lighten up in recent years give us a nice throwback and reminder that they might not be completely done with that sound yet. However, I would be lying if I didn’t say that Between The Buried And Me have lost some of their vibrance in the years since Colors.