It feels like Saves the Day have always been a staple of the pop punk scene, forging a path on their own against the grain the their peers. At the top of their game, the band released In Reverie, a fuzzed dreamscape punctuated by the arrival of a Chris Conley with much higher vocals than on past releases. While it is regarded much more favorably today, at the time of release the album was more or less a flop; a general consensus among fans hated it compared to Stay What You Are or Through Being Cool. Sound the Alarm then, was the rebirth of Saves the Day. It wasn’t a rebirth in that is was made to please fans (it did that), but it was a response to the criticism made against In Reverie, the first album to produce the sound of modern STD albums, and the first in a trilogy of albums dealing with depression, promising a robust amount of work coming from the band for the foreseeable future.
I’ve always seen Sound the Alarm as a wake-up call to the fans. In response to the criticism of the low-key elements of In Reverie, Chris Conley turned the guitars up. In response to the pushback against the psychedelic, dreamy lyrics, he sang of much darker stories and degrading aspects of depression. Since they didn’t seem to appreciate the experimentation, he refined the way to write a pop song to a razor’s edge and slung power chords like an axe.
If Stay What You Are was the quintessential emo album of the early aughts, Sound the Alarm was the rock record that STD fans didn’t know we wanted. “Head for the Hills” opened with a blast of rough guitars, as though it were a demented cousin of “Certain Tragedy”, before blaring into the immediately chilling lyrics of, “Burning the door in the back of my mind/ Lying alone in the morning light, feel like swallowing my eyes./ I walk around the house until my feet begin to bleed/ Still I can’t forget somehow”.
Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of Sound the Alarm, other than the ‘dark’ lyrics, is how heavy the music is. By most regards, the music is still considered pop, but by Saves the Day standards it might as well be metal. The guitars raged, and the bass was turned up to fearsome levels, playing a much more prominent role than on past regards, thumping along as though following the listener down an alley. For anyone who questioned the direction of the band after In Reverie, this was an album that reminded them that this was the band who wrote Through Being Cool, found art in the depths of depression to create an emo masterpiece, and then suckerpunched haters who thought the band would try to recreated Stay What You Are to appease the detracting fans.
For everything that fans think define Saves The Day, Sound The Alarm set a precedent for staples to their live shows. For everyone who came to hear “At Your Funeral”, “Eulogy”, “Dying Day” and “The End” became new necessary songs. Simple pop songs, perfected down to the second in how long they lasted, and infused with enough energy to fill the entirety of the last couple STD albums.
“I’m living in a dark and dying day, and everything is lost along the way/ The feeling in my hearts’ not the same, so what’s to say?”, as the opening lines from “Dying Day” showed that although Chris Conley was aiming to satisfy the need the everyone who wanted a ‘dark’ album, he was having fun with it by supplanting positive sounding guitar riffs as the backbone of the song. It could may as well have been a B-Side to Through Being Cool.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Sound The Alarm though, is how it became a concept album. When it was first released, it was taken for what it was – a rock album. However, several months after its release, Chris mentioned in several interviews that this was the first in a trilogy of albums dealing with depression. That’s the first time I reexamined it. Every dark lyric took a new meaning as I tried to figure out how it would tie together with two more albums worth of music.
The sound became the writhing tide of depression when it grips you fully, tearing at your flesh in an orgy of energy that saps your strength. Although the music may have sounded poppy, the thoughts behind it ate away at the good mood. Though the energy remained, it deteriorated quickly into ideas of death and poisoned consciousness. And right when it seems like everything might be balancing out, it struck at the gut punch to anyone who has ever felt true depression: how it affects those around you.
While the first half of the album delved into dark imagery balanced by pop music, the second half truly sank hope of redemption, starting with “Say You’ll Never Leave”. It spoke directly to the people who love someone suffering from depression directly and the desperation not to hurt them while you deal with the pain inside, as Chris sang, “Say you’ll never leave, please, this war inside my mind is killing me./ I’ll cut out my throat and I’ll eat it raw, and drown in the blood as it fills my lungs./ Say you’ll never leave, please, this war inside my mind is killing me”.
The rest of the record follows this deeper pain, begging to spare those around him and almost apologizing for putting them in this position with increasingly desperate lyrics, such as “Sifting through the picture of the ghost inside my mind/ Somehow can’t forget the times I failed to get things right” (“Diseased”), or the softer “Don’t Know Why”, as he sings, “The mirror staring back at me/ The cracking lines along my face/ The times I try to get things straight, but could not./ I know how hard I try to keep myself alive/ But I don’t know, I don’t know why”.
Although Sound The Alarm never seems to pick up the pieces and becomes increasingly darker, there are two more albums to do just that. This was also around the time that I saw Saves The Day live for the first time, at the Metro in Chicago. Chris Conley walked on stage with bright pink hair and a green army-looking jacket. It nearly startled me, as I expected someone half dead to take the stage after hearing songs like these. Instead, a shit-eating grin plastered across his face, he unleashed more energy upon me than I had ever seen. Even now, over ten years later, I consider that one moment of seeing him take the stage, playing through his set immediately after the release of Sound The Alarm as one of the best concerts I have ever seen.
Chris has never hid the fact that he has dealt with depression by any means. Sound The Alarm, Under the Boards, and Daybreak are the most direct albums that deal with it head on. But seeing him in the lights of the stage, belting song after song and bouncing to each strum of the guitar, I reminded myself that no matter how dark it can get (Sound The Alarm can get dark), it is always conquerable. There is always a way to smile through it. There is always a reason to keep performing.
While I don’t expect anyone to consider Sound The Alarm the pinnacle Saves The Day album, I am hurt when it’s not considered among their best (What about Can’t Slow Down, maaaaaan?!). It signaled the resurgence of Saves The Day, the establishing of what their sound, style, and charisma would be for the next decade. Sound The Alarm did more than give them a second shot at a career; it reminded us that even in the darkest depths of our minds, we can still find reason to smile brightly and do our best, because at any given time, there are at least two albums worth of even darker trials ahead to conquer, and we should look forward to the chance to prove that we can.
by Kyle Schultz
Kyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and Saves The Day was his first concert (with The Early November!) For fifteen years, Saves The Day and New Found Glory have always been his fall-to bands for music, no matter the circumstances. Long Live Saves The Day!