Reflecting On: Chiodos – Bone Palace Ballet

By the fall of 2007, Chiodos had established themselves as one of the premiere post-hardcore bands on the planet. The band’s sophomore album, Bone Palace Ballet, fully harnessed the potential displayed on their debut and landed at #5 on the Billboard 200, transitioning the band from lively up-and-comers to a full-fledged headlining rock act.

Unfortunately for Chiodos, intervening years have hijacked the band’s narrative. Ensuing drama, inner turmoil, member turnover, news headlines, and the band’s own mystique have shadowed much of the music, namely the brilliance of Bone Palace Ballet. There’s an argument to made that it’s one of the most criminally underrated albums in scene history.

You can buy “Bone Palace Ballet” on iTunes.

Chiodos’ debut, All’s Well That Ends Well, was a firecracker of raw energy that put the band’s name on the tip of everyone’s tongue. For their follow-up, the band channeled that passion into a more controlled and polished body of work while expanding on their sound in exciting new ways. It’s still easy to hear the band’s signature chaos across ripping guitar riffs from Jason Hale and manic keyboard lines from Bradley Bell, but several new tricks provided a world of new possibilities.

Just under a year after My Chemical Romance dropped their smash rock opera The Black Parade, Chiodos followed suit with their own dramatic display, capitalizing on frontman Craig Owens’ theatrical performance. Bone Palace Ballet is chock full of rich, over-the-top melody and drama, highly inspired by poems from Charles Bukowski and others. On All’s Well, Owens made a name for himself with a wild, spastic delivery, and while his screams carry even more power on Ballet, his purposefully over-dramatic vocal inflections would become his calling card.

Yet it would have been possible for all of this to fall flat if not for the swirl of unexpected sounds underneath. Blended into the mix were full orchestral arrangements that somehow made sense alongside crashing guitars and drums. A string section carries the first 30 seconds of “Life is a Perception of Your Own Reality” before Owens crashes through the door with, “I’d like to take this time to detach my jaw”. A myriad of horns blast along with the chorus of “Lexington. (Joey Pea-Pot with a Monkeyface)”.

Think on this: Chiodos juxtaposed ragtime pop with their own personal brand of convulsive post-hardcore and the resulting product was a smashing success. How many bands since have attempted to blend in these kinds of theatrics and come anywhere close to something as powerful as “Is it Progression if a Cannibal Uses a Fork?” The chances taken on Bone Palace Ballet allowed the band to explore new territory without it ever feeling like a jump of the proverbial shark.

Credit producer Casey Bates with helping the band find balance. At times on Ballet, it feels as if even one more additional instrument could bring a whole song crashing down. Still, for all of the fully-loaded tracks on the album, Chiodos still finds time to deliver some of their softest (“A Letter from Janelle”, “Intensity in Ten Cities”) and heaviest (“Teeth the Size of Piano Keys”, “The Undertaker’s Thirst for Revenge is Unquenchable”) songs. By the time Owens croons, “All the world’s a stage / I existed because I dreamed and, well, I dream no more” near the albums somber conclusion, it feels as though you’ve experienced every sound and mood a heavy rock album could hope to offer.

With Chiodos now decidedly disbanded, it feels like the conversation around the band focuses on squandered potential. I’d argue otherwise. Certainly, fans of the band would love to have gotten another album or two before they said farewell, but the quality of the output across their four albums is certainly undeniable. In fact, I’d hear an argument for any of the four releases as Chiodos’ best.

At the end of the day, though, Bone Palace Ballet stands as a beacon of the best parts of Chiodos – chaotic, melodramatic, fantastical. It’s still a spectacle to behold 10 years later.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel 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.

Reflecting On: Chiodos – All’s Well That Ends Well

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During 2015, we’re going to be looking back on some of the best albums that were released 10 years ago and discussing their legacy. Feel free to share your thoughts and memories in the replies. Enjoy!

Frenetic. Chaotic. Wild. Furious. Unapologetic.

There is a very specific set of terms that describe the sonic energy found on All’s Well That Ends Well, the debut album from Chiodos. Not only did the record set a foundation for the progressive post-hardcore band to grow from, it landed a powerful blow to the cheek of a stagnant screamo scene in the process.

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You can buy All’s Well That Ends Well on iTunes.

Cutting their teeth at a local music venue in Flint, Michigan, Chiodos wore their influences on their sleeve on their debut. The unbridled energy of bands like Glassjaw and Thursday slams hard against fleeting pop sensibilities and unnerving keyboards and synthesizers. All’s Well That Ends Well is somewhat of a time capsule, perfectly capturing the sound of its age.

Aside from its raw vigor and evocative theatrics, the album may best be known as the coming out party for Craig Owens – a relatively unknown vocalist who would be considered a full-fledged rock star by the end of the album’s cycle. Untrained and unrestrained, Owens struts across the album’s 13 tracks with abandon, unleashing piercing screams and whispery spoken word vocals, sometimes within the same line. His opening shrieks of, “This spring of love resembles the uncertain glory of an April day” on “All Nereids Beware” still stands as one of the scene’s most startling introductions.

Much like Owens’ neurotic vocal spillage, the band transitions on a moment’s notice from shredding post-hardcore riffs to hauntingly gentle piano passages. “The Words ‘Best Friend’ Become Redefined” tackles all five stages of grief, both sonically and lyrically, in under four minutes.

The pace of the record is fast, but it’s worth remembering just how spacey and ambient it felt in 2005 when juxtaposed with some of the band’s peers. It’s easy to capture cheap energy. It’s something more to add odd, unfamiliar elements to the mix to capture real emotion without completely abandoning genre expectations. All’s Well That Ends Well is best described as a post-hardcore record, but it felt like something completely new while still maintaining an air of familiarity.

We’d heard a breakdown, but when padded with Bradley Bell’s manic keyboard lines, All’s Well’s heavy parts went down easy. We’d heard soaring vocals atop gritty guitar riffs, but Owens’ heart-on-his-sleeve pleading made it less a performance and more a desperate cry for help. His anger, despair and utter defeat rang out like a painful tolling bell, even when he resorted to cliché.

“Baby, You Wouldn’t Last a Minute on the Creek” served as a case study track for the band’s boundaries, but also became the blueprint for the next generation of in-betweeners. A delicate beginning find’s Owens suggesting, “Let’s just stop, drop everything / Forget each other’s names and just walk away” before the guitars kick in with fury. When he later cries, “This is probably the best, not to mention the worst, idea that I have ever had”, you can feel the internal conflict. Though infectious as hell, the band never lets the song slip into overly accessible territory.

Three years prior, The Used tested these same waters with their debut, but chose instead to let their appetite for catchy hooks tip the scales. That album was a gateway drug for many, but Chiodos appeared content to take only a quick hit, never fully indulging in crossover potential. The opening hardcore riffs of “We’re Gonna Have Us a Champagne Jam”, coupled with Owens’ piercing howl, act as a firm refusal to cater to emo pop fans that wandered in the room on accident.

Chiodos would tighten ship with subsequent releases, but did the band forsake the raw energy that made their debut such a smash? Bone Palace Ballet leaned toward full-on rock opera while Illuminaudio toed the line of progressive radio rock. Devil is an animal all its own, combining every element found in the Chiodos training manual.

There’s certainly not a bad apple in the bunch, but All’s Well That Ends Well seems to stand the test of time. Even with its rough edges and uneven delivery, it still packs a bite. While the band may never again harness the youthful fight and anger that made this debut such a classic, they’ve slowly been perfecting their craft and cementing themselves as post-hardcore giants. If the end is in sight, it’s certainly an ending worth shouting about.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel 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.

Review: Chiodos – Devil

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You know the story by now. In one of the most unlikely of reunions, estranged frontman Craig Owens shockingly returned to screamo giants Chiodos in 2012. Considering Owens’ celebrity status in the scene and Chiodos’ standing as one post-hardcore’s pillars, the announcement was filled with excitement, disbelief and bewilderment.

Now, nearly two years after the parties reunited, we’ve been delivered with the long-anticipated follow-up in the form of Devil. At first glance, this appears very much like the Chiodos we all knew – the return of Owens’ wailing vocals, the long, nonsensical song titles, the haunting piano intro and plenty of theatrics.

However, upon digging a little deeper, it’s clear that the devil is truly in the details.

The members of Chiodos have made clear that Devil is not to be mistaken as a true follow-up to 2007’s Bone Palace Ballet, which is certainly fair enough given the amount of time that has passed. However, this new collection of songs ranges widely from the emo-infused hardcore the band is known for to alt rock to straight-out pop.

In the case of some albums in this scene, diversity is a blessing. However, if you try too hard to cater to everyone, you can sometimes end up alienating all.

Before we throw Devil under the bus, it deserves to be said that there are some great songs on this album. “Ole Fishlips is Dead” and “Expensive Conversations in Cheap Motels” sound like matured songs from the band’s debut, All’s Well That Ends Well. Fast-paced guitar riffs, evocative keys, chunky breakdowns and Owens’ signature shrieking all feel like the best kind of throwback.

The band even expands their repertoire on tracks like “Looking for a Tornado”, utilizing a beautiful acoustic intro before shifting into an upbeat, but not frantic, pace that includes a chillingly powerful chorus. This controlled kind of chaos is just what the doctor ordered, offering a bridge between the old Chiodos sound and punishingly heavy tracks like “Behvis Bullock”.

It’s in moments like this and “I’m Awkward & Unusual” that the band sounds better than ever. So what’s the problem?

Unfortunately, the utilization of new tricks doesn’t end there. “3 AM” is a pop rock song that you could easily imagine Travis Clark singing on an early We Are the Kings album. “Under Your Halo” sounds like a Cinematic Sunrise b-side crossed with a one of the more tranquil moments from The Black Parade. “Duct Tape” appears to be a stowaway from Owens’ previous band D.R.U.G.S. that somehow made its way onto the tracklist.

You could possibly argue the merit of these songs individually, but they do nothing but disrupt the flow of the album and confuse the listener. These awkward transitions don’t serve to expand Devil sonically, they instead create a frustratingly disjointed listen. Most listeners will find it beneficial to skip around the album, picking and choosing their own Devil playlist.

This trip-up is a surprise. Chiodos has a track record of making diverse records – Bone Palace Ballet features poppy (“Lexington”), heavy (“The Undertaker’s Thirst For Revenge is Unquenchable”) and acoustic (“Intensity in Ten Cities”) tracks that all play a role in the larger whole without creating a hiccup. Devil is a grab bag.

So was it worth the wait? Probably. Even though the album falters as a whole, the individual standouts are enough of a taste to satiate longtime fans. Former Fall of Troy vocalist/guitarist Thomas Erak fills the riff hole left by Justin Hale quite well, while Owens and keyboardist Bradley Bell combine to provide us with plenty of the spooky, melodic moments that help set Chiodos apart.

Devil is a confusing reimagining of Chiodos, to be sure. However, the best moments are worth cherishing, even when they battle against the peculiar ones. If nothing else, Devil leaves the door wide open for the future of Chiodos – which direction the band decides to choose should keep the intrigue alive.

3/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel 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.