Well, the moment we’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived. Acceptance’s premature departure in 2006 not only left a gaping hole in the hearts of their fans, but also created one of the biggest “what ifs” in scene history. Now, more than a decade removed from the release of the band’s lone album, Phantoms, Acceptance returns.
Perhaps the greatest challenge Acceptance faces with the release of Colliding by Design is one of expectations. When someone’s only frame of reference for your band is the music you created 12 years ago, how do you reintroduce yourself after so much has changed? Colliding by Design is not Phantoms Part 2. In fact, you may be well off to leave your presumptions about Acceptance at the door before entering.
Regardless of the sonic evolution, one thing is clear: our hunch that Acceptance was truly a great band has been proven true. Colliding by Design is wonderful and different – we just never got the chance to hear a decade’s worth of music that would have come in between.
So let’s talk about the music. Colliding by Design is a wonderfully written and produced pop rock album. Where it differs from Phantoms is in influence and execution. That debut was chock full of obvious aggressive melody, whereas Design is much more patient and varied. The same 80s influence that has powered bands like The 1975 into the spotlight is evident, but buried delicately into the mix.
The album’s first single and opening track, “Diagram of a Simple Man”, serves as a clean starting point for fans, finding a middle ground between recent Coldplay and old Acceptance. A clear nod to the members’ confusing time apart, Jason Vena breaks through the speakers during the chorus with his signature croon, belting, “We live in black and white / We dream in color”.
There are certainly moments on Collide where we get short glimpses of the ghost of Acceptance past, including the wonderfully straight forward pop rock track “Fire and Rain” and even recent single “Haunted”, with its explosive chorus and pounding percussion, courtesy of original drummer Garrett Lunceford.
Truly, though, the album’s best moments come when the band sounds brand new. The record’s title track is a shining example of what Acceptance sounds like in the year 2017, with a deep 80s vibe and a silky smooth chorus courtesy of Vena: “Let’s kiss before you go away / Two burning stars chasing the day / There’s a look in your eye, you want to stay / So let’s kiss before you go away”.
Likewise, “Sunset” catapults itself into contention for title of the band’s best song with a perfect blend of pounding drums, polished guitar riffs and swelling synthesizers. A track that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the Drive soundtrack, “Sunset” seems every bit the logical evolution for the band, with Vena harkening his past lyrical deliveries with sultry lines like, “She looks at me with a wicked smile / I look to her, I’m gonna stay awhile”.
Throughout the record, guitarist Christian McAlhaney continues to make his case as one of the most unsung musicians in the scene. The songwriting chops he honed during his time away with Anberlin are felt heavily on Colliding by Design, especially on tracks like “When I Was Cursed”, which sounds like it could have belonged on the next Anberlin album. Likewise, producer Aaron Sprinkle, who has experience working with both Acceptance and Anberlin, shines brightly here, pulling the right strings at just the right moment to capture the band’s growth.
It would be unfair at this point to not point out that Colliding by Design has its flaws. Like the pins and needles that come with standing up after a long rest, the members of Acceptance are still early in their reunion and are surely working muscles that haven’t seen use in years.
Recorded in chunks, with ideas being sent back and forth throughout the process, the album sometimes suffers from a disconnect between songs and flows uneven at times. Even so, there’s an overarching theme to the record that helps hold it all together – a clear love the band has for one another and an eagerness to learn what it means to be Acceptance again.
We are fortunate to have new music from a band that we never truly expected to return. We are also fortunate that a band of such talent saw fit to create something new and honest instead of trying to replicate the past. Phantoms was a perfect album for its time, but any attempt to recreate such a time capsule would undoubtedly resulted is disappointment. The very existence of Colliding by Design speaks to hope in the present and in the future.
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.