Reflecting On: Blessthefall – Witness

“We’re not dead / We’re not like you said / We’re not dead / We’re not like you!”

In music, there are those special moments that send a chill up your spine no matter how many times you’ve heard them. The opening refrain of Witness, the sophomore album from blessthefall, still cause my hair to stand on end. It’s the rallying cry of a band that many had written off after the departure of lead singer Craig Mabbit, and it’s an explosive introduction to a new era of metalcore that would set the tone for the next decade of heavy music.

You can buy or stream Witness on Apple Music.

Even though blessthefall have released better albums over the course of their 15-year career (Hollow Bodies, Hard Feelings), I go back to Witness constantly – multiple times a year. With an October release date, the record brings back memories of autumn, but truly, this is an album that could spin year round. It’s heavy, but not punishingly so. It’s full of melody, but you’d never confuse it with the pop-screamo scene that proceeded it.

By late 2009, a new wave of metalcore acts were beginning to become household names in the scene. The Devil Wears Prada had achieved a rapid rise through Plagues and With Roots Above and Branches Below and Bring Me the Horizon had bled into the States with the success of Suicide Season. But those bands required a certain proclivity for and background in heavy music to fully appreciate. Witness offered an entry into metal while never feeling like it was compromising. It’s a heavy album that allows you space to breathe.

New lead singer Beau Bokan was just that – a singer. The band’s heaviness came from bassist Jared Warth’s brutal screams, guitarist Eric Lambert’s drop-D riffing, and drummer Matt Traynor’s machine-gun drumming. That opening cry of “We’re not dead” still resonates because of its urgency and authenticity. With Mabbit leaving for the seemingly greener grasses of Escape the Fate, blessthefall had a lot to prove in 2009, having just signed to Fearless Records with a new lead singer and a new sound. What the band delivered was nothing short of astonishing.

What Bokan brought to the band that Mabbit hadn’t with the band’s decent, but relatively pedestrian debut album, His Last Walk, was personality. Getting called up to the big leagues from indie band Take the Crown, Bokan immediately resonated with fans through his live performance and soaring vocals. That opening track leads into “What’s Left of Me”, which finds Bokan singing, “Blood is dropping from my hands / Tell me, is this what you wanted?” The entire album feels rife with bad blood – towards Mabbit and anyone who dared doubt the band could carry on. On the title track, Warth bellows the lines, “Don’t try so hard / We see right through you / You’re a liar, you don’t need to breathe / You said, you said, you said we’re done”.

Even the album’s iconic artwork hammers the point home. A lone monarch butterfly amidst a post-apocalyptic wasteland with the word “WITNESS” in all caps lets us know we’re about to watch something rise from the ashes. It’s at once beautiful and menacing, but mostly, it’s a statement of purpose.

Yet for all of the vigor, anger, and drive found throughout Witness, the band still manages to find small moments of space for reflection, such as album closer “Stay Still”, in which Bokan carries the vocals entirely. On fan favorite “Hey Baby, Here’s that Song You Wanted”, the band leans into scene dramatics, kick-starting the track with a voicemail from a spurned former lover of Bokan’s that I’m still not sure is real or staged. The energy never dies, but the pace does shift enough to allow you to rest your neck.

One of my personal favorite moments on the album comes on “We’ll Sleep When We’re Dead”. Bokan, a vocal fan of Fall Out Boy, drops some of his most Pete Wentz-esque lyrics, singing, “Hide your makeshift hearts / We’re taking aim / And we won’t be leaving”. On “Five Ninety”, a track that bookends melody with crushing breakdowns, finds Bokan digging at the nerves the band likely felt when crafting this debut-redo, “This road is getting darker / You’ve been dying to find your inspiration”.

Though I have no definitive proof, I feel strongly that Witness was the gateway drug that led to the full metalcore explosion that came in the following years. Blessthefall (along with bands like A Day to Remember) allowed both musicians and fans alike to realize that there was room to write for multiple audiences and that the traditional pop punk Warped Tour crowd was open to listening to something a bit heavier if crafted in the right way. Witness doesn’t suffer from a weak moment or a lack of identity. It sets the stage for not only the next 10 years of a band that has become a mainstay and trendsetter, but a decade’s worth of bands hoping to catch that same fire.

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.

Rewriting History: An Interview with Robert Ortiz of Escape the Fate


I believe [our new album] will transcend everything that Escape the Fate has ever been and everything that you’ve ever known Escape the Fate to be. Whatever old shit that fans want to always rehash, it will all go away. It will all be history. This will define Escape the Fate. – Robert Ortiz

A lot has changed since Escape the Fate’s first run on Warped Tour in 2006. Since their explosion on the scene, the band attained a major label record deal, underwent a few sonic reformations and weathered multiple major lineup changes, including the transition from one rock star vocalist to another. It’s been a long, fascinating road.

Whether the band was on the brink of rock radio stardom or reigning as kings in the post-hardcore scene, one thing Escape the Fate never could seem to shake was their bad boy image – one that was bolstered by inner-band strife and a constant stream of unsavory press. Now over a decade into their career and on the brink of what the band is calling their defining release, the focus appears much less blurry-eyed and hazy. Escape the Fate are ready to get serious.

When we caught up with Robert Ortiz at the Noblesville, Indiana, date of this year’s Warped Tour, the drummer had just finished a workout and excitedly spoke of the band’s forthcoming album and the chance for a new start. According to Ortiz, Escape the Fate is more determined than ever, and with the help of a certain star producer, has captured the true essence of the band for the very first time.


You’re on the last leg of Warped Tour – how has this summer been for you?

Warped’s been great, man. Every day has been interesting. We’re veterans now at this point – we’re one of the older bands, which is kind of weird. I don’t like that because I’m so fucking young. Some of the younger bands are older than us – it’s weird. But, you know, it’s been great. It’s been really cool to see how our band has stayed relevant over the years.

You can buy the band's 2013 album Ungrateful on iTunes.

You can buy the band’s 2013 album Ungrateful on iTunes.

Through all of the ups and downs that my band has had, a lot of people still love it. They’re very passionate about us and what we do, and they get that we’re very important to the entire scene and the entire movement and everything that Warped Tour stands for. We were a little worried when we first thought about doing Warped Tour again, because we haven’t done it in six years. We were a little worried that maybe we don’t fit in anymore – and fuck that. We hella do and we’re grabbing new fans; young fans that have never heard us. We’re also keeping our older fans that have been with us for a long time and the shows have been outstanding.

Every day is fun. We’re making a lot of friends, we’re hanging out. Yesterday, I hung out with Ashley [Purdy] from Black Veil Brides, and that night I hung out with New Years Day, who I hang out with every day anyway. It’s just a fun time out here and I’m really enjoying it, even though sometimes you’ve gotta deal with the weather, but it’s all good.

You mentioned new fans, and Escape the Fate is a band that has kind of evolved their sound. For a lot of bands to do some of the things that you guys have done, there’s a risk of losing that core fan base. But it seems like you’ve not only kept that, but have grown your fan base. Has it been intentional to bring new people in?

I mean, in terms of the music itself, no. The music itself really just comes down to whatever we’re into – whatever we’re feeling. If one of us had a friend who just passed away, we write a song about it. If one of us, you know, is into something really heavy and weird with bouncy rhythms, we write that type of sound. If one of us is love, we write a love song. We don’t think about it too much. The sounds evolve, new things happen, new things catch your ear.

For us it’s never about that. The way we go about promoting our band after we finish the music, that’s where the challenge is. We’ve taken many risks: we’ve done the rock radio tours, we’ve dealt with Godsmacks and the Seethers of the world, and it doesn’t always work. A lot of those fans aren’t receptive. Once you have a hit, they know who are, but unless you have a true hit, a lot of times they just don’t really care because they don’t have that kind of time. They just want something that they know is good and solid, they can believe in and they’ll go watch you and support you.

Whereas out here on Warped Tour, you have a lot of young fans who are taking chances. They want to hear something new. They’re going, “What do you got? Show me.” So you’ve got a completely different mentality. They’re both awesome and they both suck for different reasons, you know? As far as the music itself, though? We write it for us.

This spring, before Warped Tour, the word was that you guys were starting to work on a new album. Can you give any updates about where you’re at with that?

Yeah, absolutely! We’re so fucking excited about it, man. We truly poured our hearts into this. We have every single emotion that has ever been trapped inside of us. We basically spent our whole lives building up to this album. Every experience we’ve ever had, personally – with our hearts, with our minds and as musicians in our career – it’s all led up to this album.

We put it all together and I believe it will transcend everything that Escape the Fate has ever been and everything that you’ve ever known Escape the Fate to be. Whatever old shit that fans want to always rehash, it will all go away. It will all be history. This will define Escape the Fate. We worked on it for, like, seven months straight, just writing and writing and writing. We only recorded it in about three weeks, because it wasn’t about the production. It was about the songs.

At this point, we’re just about done. We’ve got the track listing, we’ve got all of this stuff, now we’re just working on how are we going to release it, how are we going to have the most impact. So we’re looking at probably an October release date. We just got the very first edit of our first music video that will be released, and I can tell you that it’s going to be a song that we’ve been playing on Warped Tour. So, you know, if you stick around for our late set tonight, you’ll hear it. It’s called “Just the Memory” and it’s a brutal song. We’re very excited about it – it should be out around October.

Did you guys work with a producer on this album?

Yes, we worked with Howard Benson – the great Howard Benson. It was amazing because when we started, we had some names, but we weren’t sure where our band would be. There were so many ups and downs that people don’t really want to take chances: “That band’s done. Who cares?” Then we slowly worked our way up to different producers that wanted to work with us and believed in what we want to do.

Howard Benson was one of my dream producers. I told our manger, “Dude, do you think we could ever work with this guy? I’ve always wanted to and he worked with My Chem.” That was a band, to me, that represented what we do, which is something that’s unique – a little raw, a little dirty. To make a great song, with their unique style, that’s what I want, because we’re unique, but we haven’t captured that song and those groups of songs in an album that really defines us.

He gave us a chance. Luckily, his daughter was fan and the planets aligned. He’s given us a chance and he taught us not how to write a song, but to just keep writing until you know in your heart you have the right songs. He lent us his ear and said, “This is a good one.” We may not have heard it at the time, so he would just teach us. He was like, “Who cares about this drum roll? Who cares if it’s not that fancy? The fucking song is there – the main part. What do people listen to? They listen to vocals and lyrics and melodies. That’s what your focus is, so work on that.”

So this album, I didn’t even give a fuck about drums and I’m the drummer! This time, we focused on vocals, melodies and lyrics – myself included. Everything else came out secondary to benefit that.

You guys have had a lot of different member transitions through the years. Is it different now when it comes to writing? What was it like this time around?

I’m not going to sugarcoat it; it was very different this time around. It’s the best experience of my life. I never wanted to leave the studio. I think I lost my mind while I was in there. I mean that sincerely – I genuinely lost my mind. I went fucking crazy, for one, because I was living in a hotel for months. When we weren’t completely dedicated and busy, you kind of sit around like, “What do I fucking do with my life?”

I didn’t want to leave, though. I was afraid to go home. I didn’t want to play this tour. I was in a writing zone – just so focused. You asked about differences – before, it was like a factory, like, “Here’s this riff, here’s this vocal, let’s record it and go back on tour and make some money.” That got so lame to me. It felt like we lost our heart. Now, we always worked very hard on it, but we truly lost what it meant to dig into a song and make it mean something. Like, what’s the point? Why are we making songs if we don’t need to make them?

These songs now, we’re desperately pouring our hearts and our souls out. It’s not like, “We need an album, guys.” It’s like, “No, our band is broken up – we’re done. So what are we going to do? I need to write a song, because that’s what I do. I’m a fucking artist.” This time around, there was so much creativity. We were throwing ideas back and forth and we all helped each other. We all let our guard down, which is hard for any artist to do because you’re so controlling of your own thing and you’re a little embarrassed to show people some of your ideas. You don’t always show them the good shit because you think it’s going to be lame or something.

This time, it’s just, “Every idea you’ve got – put it out there.” We didn’t take any offense if somebody didn’t like it, we just wanted each other to be the best we could be and it was a true bonding experience. I love my band mates more that ever. We’re brothers. We grew together because we actually opened our hearts to each other with this record and we got closer because of it.

You talked about being veterans in this scene. What do you feel has changed the most for you and the band during this time? Has it been maturity as songwriters and as people?

I think, I mean, you just said it – it’s maturity. Maturity on every single level. I used to walk around this tour just pissed off because of my band members always fucking up and people being stupid. I was always mad. I didn’t want to deal with people. I didn’t care. I assumed that everyone who was in rock and roll was a drug addict like my band mates. I was just an asshole.

As an artist, we thought we were the shit, but we were also very, very insecure at the same time. We thought everyone fucking hated us. Now, when you have a little bit of, not hindsight, but where you can take a step back and take a look at everything as a big picture, we’ve fucking been able to do something that most people dream of doing – and that’s to make money doing something that you love doing. And so, we’re just fucking content. We’re happy. We chill. We make friends with other bands and it’s a fucking good time.

One last question: You talked about a lot of younger bands being out here now – is there anyone that’s caught your eye this summer?

It’s Warped Tour – there’s a lot to like. What sucks is that most of the time when I’m hearing these bands, because we’re busy and there’s always something to do, I’ll just be walking around and be like, “What’s this sound? It’s fucking amazing. I love it!” So I’ll sit and watch the whole song but they don’t say their band name, but I’ve gotta leave, so…fuck. But one of the bands that I have recognized is a band called Palisades, who I love. There’s just so much energy. They’re just fucking unrelenting. They have some big choruses, too. Them and Our Last Night – I fucking love that band.

Writing our new album really made me fall in love with music again. I became so jaded and it became a job to me. Writing the record made me realize why I love music and why I’m so enthralled by it. Listening to all of the new bands and new sounds…I’m not that fucking jaded dude anymore. It used to be like, “Fuck all these kids. This music is fucking garbage! The old shit is better.” I grew up like that because I’m a metal head, so anything from the 80s was my shit, even though that was before my time. Now I’m just open to it. There are a lot of great artists out here. I can’t name them all – just look at the poster.

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.