There’s no denying that Emery has had a fascinating career arc. Their first two albums, The Weak’s End and The Question, both served as high water marks in the screamo scene, with the latter placing the band among the genre’s elite. Later releases would find the band dabbling in alt rock and even metalcore amidst scattered touring and multiple lineup changes.
Recent years have found Emery exploring new territory. The band left their longtime home of Tooth and Nail Records to start a new label and accompanying podcast titled Bad Christian. Despite releasing no new music in four years, the guys have remained relevant voices in the scene, making the choice to crowdfund their latest release a no brainer.
You Were Never Alone pays homage to “old” Emery – full of fight, with dueling vocals and poppy hooks. It’s not a perfect album, nor is it the best release of the band’s career, but it works. It also makes sense as a nostalgic ride as the band celebrates the 10th anniversary of The Question.
Perhaps the best thing about You Were Never Alone is the return of former guitarist and vocalist Devin Shelton, whose voice adds the much-needed response to singer Toby Morrell’s. His presence is felt from track one – “Rock, Pebble, Stone” is a smooth rock number full of wonderful harmonies from Shelton and Morrell over a sweet bass line. It’s a far cry from the crushing metalcore of We Do What We Want, but don’t get too comfortable.
“Thrash” may very well be the most violent song of Emery’s career, offering a punch to the gut after the album’s unassuming opener. The band gives their best Every Time I Die impression as Morrell screams and shouts over shredding guitars before the song ends with an abrupt groovy, jazz-like finish. Emery has always had a way with curveballs, and “Thrash” may be their most knee-buckling yet.
Most of You Were Never Alone falls somewhere between the ying and yang of the first two tracks, sounding like a close relative of In Shallow Seas We Sail. “Hard Times” is a throwback Emery track with back-and-forth dual vocals and a soaring chorus. “Pink Slip” plays off of Shelton and Murrell’s trade off before adding a crushing breakdown. “Salvatore Wryhta” is an upbeat, fast-paced tune with killer screams sprinkled in for good measure.
Missteps come in the form of a complete lack of keyboard lines that made the band’s early work so stellar, and the absence of any tracks featuring Shelton on lead vocals. Although songs like “Go Wrong Young Man” and “Alone” may fall flat, they’re easily covered up by the accessibility of “The Less You Say” and “To the Deep”. If You Were Never Alone is a mixed bag, it comes up shining more often than not.
Emery have long tackled the tensions of human relationships while using that friction as a tool to search for truth. That conversation continues here, but the growth and complexity of the search continues to expand. The band has made a career out of tiptoeing along the lines of hard answers, preferring instead to defer to even harder questions. It’s a tactic that speaks volumes, regardless of what philosophical background you’re coming from.
As scene veterans, Emery have earned the right to experiment and forge their own path. The process continues on You Were Never Alone, but this feels as much like an album for the fans as any you’ll hear this year. The combination of new and old suits the band well in 2015 and solidifies their status as songwriting pros in the post-hardcore scene.
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.