It seems to me that 2010 will be the year we see if any of these new age screamo/post hardcore/scene metal acts have legs underneath them. People have been saying for years that the heavier underground scene was getting flooded and I think we’re at a critical moment where looking the part or having some synth to lighten the mood won’t be enough to keep fans happy. Bands wishing to stay afloat are going to have to push themselves harder than before and the first real contenders up to this challenge seem to be Fearless’ Alesana, whose new concept album, The Emptiness hits stores later this month.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that when Alesana broke onto the national scene, I was less than impressed. Their debut album, On Frail Wings of Wax and Vanity, played more like funeral march for modern music than anything someone would want to build a career on [or even lay claim to]. To this day I still cannot stand that album and find very little, if anything, of value to take away from it. However, if you fast forward to the band’s second label release, Where Myth Fades to Legend, you find a much more confident, talented, and focused band that really has something to offer. The song structures, the writing, and the overall feeling you got when listening to that record set a new standard for the Hot Topic based scene of heavy music. Chugs and screams were no longer enough, you had to understand music and use your knowledge to create something of value that could appeal to a broader audience and while it worked for the band, of course, some “old school” fans called foul. Now we have a new record, a new decade, and a band that has not only grown into that confidence we found before, but taken their creativity to an all new high.
“Curse of the Virgin Canvas” opens the album with a subtle and astoundingly dark/emo spoken word introduction to set up this dark tale of a record. This is followed by a haunting female voice informing us of how “the emptiness” will haunt us all. Yes, it is that dramatic from the get go and if you’re already turned off, you might as well stop reading because these spoken word interludes that truly take the idea of emo to a new, dark low are scattered throughout the record. However, once the band kicks in, we realize that it’s not all mournful comments and gratuitously depressing sentiments as the band’s ability to craft songs that appeal to all their facets has grown in leaps and bounds. The song itself is a non-stop assault on your ear drums with every aspect of the Alesana world being displayed as a finely tuned instrument for noise. This idea continues full steam as, following another spoken word interlude, “The Artist” brings the double bass drum – hard, and yet also holds some of the softest moments on the record. As on most of the record, Shawn Mike seems to take more of a presence vocally [much like the change between the first two records] and “the screamer,” Dennis Lee, fills in with screams I challenge the best hardcore fans to decipher at times. It’s a proven method for the band and it works great here as the refined singing of Shawn Mike allows for the story to have more structure and flow as opposed to being an idea within a run-of-the-mill heavy record.
The album continues to deal in the well refined world of Alesana meshed with the occasional voice interlude to carry the story and some underlying message along until we arrive at the pinnacle of the album, “The Murderer.” This is the track fans both new and old will, without a doubt, become fascinated with. Mixing the pop rock elements of songs like “The Seduction” with the raw intensity of the earlier material over the course of four and a half glorious minutes will play like a second coming of the scene. It’s got a little bit of everything in it and it works perfectly. Try to not be blown away.
It’s at this point the album calms a bit and begins to dig deep into the storytelling. The next couple of tracks seem to flow together nearly too well to really raise an eyebrow, although the hook on “The Thespian” is hard to ignore. However, your ears will surely perk up once “The Lover” begins. Mike’s vocals guide a furious wall of sound with a calm distress that pulls you into the scene he’s creating. The instrumentation throughout the record is something everyone will be unable to ignore, but the near blur of guitar playing throughout this track will make it one to note for sure.
“In Her Tomb By The Surrounding Sea” is the more artistic heavyweight over the single-ready “To Be Scared By An Owl,” but neither track holds any weight when stacked against the seven and a half minute, “Annabel,” that closes the album. I don’t want to give too much away, but make sure you make it to and through this track. It may begin as a by-the-numbers Alesana track, but about three minutes in the track transforms into a truly ambitious and well executed resolution to their story and album.
The Emptiness may just be the most ambitious release to hit the scene since The Black Parade, but the execution varies greatly. Where My Chemical Romance created alter egos and then built a rock concept out of that idea. Alesana have simply created a completely original work of fiction that they wish to share. Forget songs about touring, social networking, and modern relationship troubles because they won’t be found here. This is an attempt to truly create a work of art and while it does tend to get a bit redundant on the back end, it has a lot of great ideas and solid execution. It’s not going to strike a giant audience and most will probably laugh at the [at times] overdramatic storytelling style, but for those who give it a true shot, I’m sure you’ll find something you enjoy.