On their third album, this six-piece crew is perched at apex of the commercial new prog-metal mountain, for better or worse, since their previous album debuted at number 5 on Billboard’s Top 200. That kind of thing sets a fairly high commercial standard for the follow-up.
This album introduces the world to their new lead vocalist, Brandon Bolmer, who was in Yesterday’s Rising, and new drummer Tanner Wayne from Scary Kids Scaring Kids, and this definitely exists more as “metal” than “punk” in the blurred vernacular of the current rock aesthetic. In their defense, they incorporate some minimal art-rock tendencies into their metal that make their way across the pond and begin to sound a wee bit like 80s/ 90s Euro-metal. They use big, soaring, dramatic vocal turns on a lot of this, and they also utilize some almost-head-snapping changes as they gallop through each track. In fact, even more of that quick change act wouldn’t hurt the cause at all. They add some much needed syncopation to the drum parts, avoiding the headache-inducing repetition of the usual rhythmic fascism of modern metal tropes. They even get worked up and go emo on “Notes In Constellation.” Thankfully, Bolmer eschews the screamo vocal school for a more harsh and raspy, but straightforward, brand of hollering.
The downside of what’s happening with this band right now is found in the song “Caves,” which slithers out of the speakers in, what some might call, an over-produced skin that it is never able to fully shed. Produced by Machine, who has also helmed records for Lamb Of God and Cobra Starship, this has the kind of chunky soup texture that falls right in his wheelhouse. The trouble lies in the fact that the label undoubtedly wants to cash in on the popularity of the previous album, so they’re going to lobby for more pre-digested, radio- friendly tonnage, as opposed to raw, un-masticated musical tuneage. This dilemma leads the way toward “Let Us Burn,” which can’t decide if it’s bombastic frat-boy, post-grunge or some kind of college- radio emo.
The optimal approach here might have been to leave the dirt in the amps a little more often, and let the vocals and guitars battle it out for supremacy. When they try too hard to be “anthemically awesome” it can backfire on them. Coheed & Cambria they’re not, and they shouldn’t try to be. They’re better off pushing the walls with their own big vocal sound, and trying to unearth more of those syncopated, turn-on-a-dime changes that work so well. Screw the corporate Gods and Masters.