If it’s become increasingly difficult for you to tell one metalcore release apart from the next, you’re not alone. With the exception of Lost Forever // Lost Together by Architects earlier this year, there hasn’t been many new releases from the genre to crow about in 2014.
I’m not here to argue that Real, the third full length from Phoenix band The Word Alive, is about to change all of that, but the album is akin to a breath a fresh air above the surface. The Word Alive has never been as much about changing the game as they have been playing the game better than others.
The band’s 2010 debut, Deceiver, still stands as an example of what a breakout album should sound like – full of emotion, littered with technical parts that demand repeated listens, and a touch of brash confidence to sell it all.
The fact that their 2012 follow-up, Life Cycles, seemed more like a sophomore slump than a continued elevation towards greatness raised questions about what direction Real would head. Would the band return to the methods of Deceiver’s madness, or delve further towards the heavy radio rock-ish vibe found on parts of Life Cycles.
The answer? A little of both.
On first listen, Real seems to command the speakers in the same way their debut did. Luke Holland unleashes on the drum kit with some crushing fills and pummeling bass kicks that drive the songs forward. His intro on “Broken Circuit” is masterful, as is his ability to command songs like “Glass Castle”.
Holland isn’t the only talented musician in this band, though. Zack Hanson’s guitar work has long been something that sets this band apart. In truth, it feels as though Hanson has much more room to work on Real than he has on the band’s last two albums. Whether he and fellow axe man Tony Pizzuti are offering up the expected breakdown, or letting their hair down a little on tracks like “Never Forget” or “The Runaway”, the duo certainly keep the listener interested.
Vocalist Tyler “Telle” Smith ups his game from Life Cycles, too. His layered screams are still some of the best in the business, and his cleans sound much more authentic this go around. Whether he’s roaring over the top of “Play the Victim” or giving his pop punk chops a go on “The Runaway”, Telle proves himself a multi-talented frontman.
Instead of going full-on Deceiver Part Duex with Real, the band mixes things up with a few curveballs (some work better than others). Tracks like “94th St.” are a delight and a much-appreciated departure from the typical architecture of a Word Alive song. The track’s slow pace creates an eerie backdrop for Telle’s soaring chorus while showcasing the band’s new ability to bury their programming appropriately into the mix instead of letting it stick out like a sore thumb.
Other changes aren’t quite as pleasant. “Lighthouse” serves as an anthemic, fist-pumping arena rock song, but will likely result in more face palms than anything else. “Collapsing” makes an attempt at the epic-closer that is apparently now required of every album in this genre, but fails to do anything to set itself apart, feeling more clumsy than moving.
That’s really the biggest fault of Real – it’s a bit overreaching at times, leaving the band to trip over their own shoelaces in an attempt to do too much. Last year, blessthefall decided to stay in their own wheelhouse with Hollow Bodies, resulting in an album that crushes nearly every song. Call it safe if you want – an honest portrayal of a talented band doing what they do best is more like it.
The Word Alive are more technically talented than almost any other band in the metalcore genre, yet it seems they haven’t quite found their sweet spot for the course of an entire album. For now, this is a small complaint, as Real takes a sizeable step forward from Life Cycles. Here’s hoping the next album knocks it out of the park.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.