Spiritbox – Eternal Blue

spiritbox-band-2021

Every once in a while, something incredible happens. A new band begins building a grassroots buzz through a sprinkling of singles that gradually increases into a viral fever pitch. It all leads up to a debut album that could never possibly live up to expectations – but then it totally does. And it’s one of my favorite things to witness as a music fan.

For Canadian metal band Spiritbox it all began five years ago when vocalist Courtney LaPlante and guitarist Mike Stringer picked up the pieces after the fallout of iwrestledabearonce and began formulating their next move. The duo’s debut self-titled EP came in 2017, followed by a string of singles after the addition of bassist Bill Crook, and eventually, drummer Zev Rose. Last year, upon the release of breakout tracks “Blessed Be” and the thunderous “Holy Roller”, Spiritbox was the most hyped new metal act in recent memory.

Spiritbox-Eternal-Blue-Artwork

You can buy or stream Eternal Blue on Apple Music

With five of the album’s 12 tracks already in circulation by the time Eternal Blue arrived, it was fair to wonder if the band had actually kept something in their back pocket to tie things all together. Did they ever. Eternal Blue is album of the year material. It’s an album that reimagines what a metal band can deliver. It solidifies Spiritbox as a giant in a genre that needs them more than it probably even realizes.

LaPlante and company wisely placed “Holy Roller” as the centerpiece of Eternal Blue. From opener “Sun Killer”, the band begins climbing the mountain toward that deafening peak before descending down the other side on the album’s back half, closing brilliantly with the atmospheric and sorrowful “Constance”. The album is designed to flow together effortlessly, even as the songs themselves individually ebb and flow. I’ve gotten chills each time “Sun Killer”, with its note-bending breakdown, transitions flawlessly into the manic opening notes of “Hurt You”.

As Spiritbox began staking their claim as a metal newcomer to be reckoned with, Stringer’s knack for complex, djent-y guitar passages drew comparisons to U.K. metalcore giants Architects. And sure enough, here’s Sam Carter delivering a chorus for the ages alongside LaPlante on “Yellowjacket”, howling, “Where was the grace when I was asking for it?” That cry into the void is a sentiment that exudes from many of the tracks on Eternal Blue, with answers often coming from within.

LaPlante’s transparent journey through the tumultuous waves of depression don’t always lean into feelings of hopelessness, but rather consistently look for open doors and windows. Of the title track, LaPlante shared, “Lyrically, it’s about someone who is at rock bottom but is trying not to romanticize that.” Still, she saves space to acknowledge those moments when it’s not that easy. On “The Summit”, she sings, “I was looking for the wrong way out / Empty road is like an open mouth” before her repeated refrain of, “The venom is what keeps me alive”. 

That visceral rise and fall effect throughout the course of Eternal Blue is something that reveals itself in new ways on each repeated listen. Take “Halcyon”, which opens with the band pounding the earth beneath their feet to dust just before the music gives way to LaPlante’s effortlessly and gracefully delivered opening lines. The band then slowly winds up for the punishing outro, with LaPlante screaming, “Irrelevance is imminent / I could be one of them” just in time for what amounts to a deep breath, followed by one of the most massive breakdowns on the album.

In the end, the ultimate payoff of Eternal Blue seems almost predestined. In a rare moment of wild confidence on the bridge of “Circle with Me”, LaPlante shreds her vocal chords as she roars, “I held the power of a dying sun / I climb the altar and I claim my place as God”. The raucous final call to circle with her and her bandmates is one that will not go unanswered. Spiritbox have owned the moment, and their new legion of fans can now lose themselves under the waves of Eternal Blue again and again.

5/5

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 pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Eras of Influence: 2004-2010 – Underoath

underoath-safety-2004

This article is part of an ongoing series in which I examine the artists and music that defined specific eras of my life. You can read my previous installment on L.A. Symphony, covering the years 2000-2004.

***

Each year when summer arrives, there is a specific rotation of music that takes over my stereo. You know the sound, because it’s likely the same for you. There’s music that just sounds like summer. It’s a season unlike any other in that regard. And for me, there’s no other album that better captures everything I want to feel in summertime than They’re Only Chasing Safety by Underoath. Because in the summer of 2004 when the album was released, I found my favorite band.

I’ve had a hard time figuring out how to write this article. Each of my past Eras of Influence features have effortlessly tumbled straight out of my mind and onto the screen through a fury of fluid keystrokes. But I’ve literally held off for months in writing about how Underoath defined this period of my life. They’re my all-time favorite band. I’ve seen them 10 times in concert. I’ve written so exhaustively about them through the years, that it’s difficult to know what else to say.

So I’m going to write, but I’m also going to link to a lot of other things I’ve written. Because they’re applicable to the story of how this band was so formative during this stretch of my life that every “era” still to come in the years I have remaining will be measured against it.

Underoath-Theyre_Only_Chasing_Safety

You can buy or stream They’re Only Chasing Safety on Apple Music.

I spent the summer of 2004 living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, working for a nonprofit organization with nine other people who were all sharing a house together. One weekend in June, I drove back to my college town to visit some friends – namely Mitch. While in college, I lived with Mitch and his brother Nick who were also in a band with their older brother Travis. It was through these three brothers that I discovered most of the music that defined my college years and beyond. If they were listening to it, chances were high that it was cool.

That June weekend, I was excited to tell Mitch how much I had been enjoying a new band I had discovered called Emery. I shouldn’t have been surprised that Mitch had another band for me. “If you like Emery, you’re going to love this.” He booted up the computer, navigated to the Tooth and Nail Records website, and began playing a grainy, low quality music video for a song called “Reinventing Your Exit”. It’s well documented how much Underoath took the scene by storm that fateful summer of 2004, and I imagine that some of you had a very similar experience. If you were sharing one album with your friends that year, it was They’re Only Chasing Safety.

Further reading: Reflecting On Underoath – They’re Only Chasing Safety

Although that album opened the screamo floodgates and I gobbled up every lookalike that came in the wake of Safety, no one quite had the “It” factor like Underoath. I spent the next summer in Tulsa again, crammed into a house with 14 people this time, several of whom had also discovered Underoath. It was spreading. And even though we were diving into other new bands like Hawthorne Heights, Chiodos, and From First to Last, we always defaulted back to Underoath.

But what made Underoath not just a cool band that came into my life one summer, like so many other cool bands have over the years, is what happened in the summer of 2006. Once again, I was in Tulsa, and on Tuesday, June 20, I woke up early and drove to Wal-Mart where I kindly asked an employee to open boxes of new CDs until they uncovered the special edition version of Define the Great Line. I spent the remainder of the summer listening to it daily. Alone in my room. Driving in the car. Taking a late evening walk. It didn’t matter when, where, or how many times I played it. Because every time I listened, I heard something new.

With Define the Great Line, Underoath made the bold and now legendary decision to completely abandon the sound that had made them a sensation. Instead of crafting another melodic and instantly catchy collection of songs, they made an album. An album without choruses, full of experimentation, designed to be listened to in full, from front to back. And it was heavy as hell. 

On paper, it should have swiftly ended the band’s run of dominance, but instead, it only made them bigger. And that can only happen when a band is simply operating on a different level of talent and vision than any of their counterparts. During this stretch, Underoath was more than just a band in the scene. They were the band by which every one of their peers was measured.

Further reading: Reflecting On Underoath – Define the Great Line

During these years, Underoath was a topic of conversation for me to a point where I’m sure it actually caused annoyance. I couldn’t stop talking about them. There has never been another point in time in which I was as obsessed with a band or artist. When Underoath abruptly dropped off Warped Tour in the summer of 2006, I felt like my own circle of friends may be in danger of breaking up. When drummer Aaron Gillespie left the band in 2010, I cried. 

Aaron, Spencer, Tim, Chris, Grant, and James felt like people I actually knew (even though I didn’t). And not in some creepy way, but in a “I love this music so much, I want to understand what’s inspiring the people who are making it” kind of way. I attended their shows any time the band came within striking distance. I owned more Underoath t-shirts than was reasonable. I bought every magazine on which they graced the cover. And every new band I discovered, I heard with a different set of ears because Underoath truly changed the way I listened to and understood music.

Further reading: Underoath 20 January 2013 – Chicago

After those early summers, it was obvious that Underoath was a band that was meant to shapeshift. Each new album was going to sound different and tread new ground, and it was exciting to ponder what would come next. Underoath defines this era of my life because of the way they sounded, but more importantly, they are my favorite band because of what they had to say.

From 2004 to 2010, which included the release of Underoath’s four best albums, a lot happened in my life. I finished college and left my days of youth behind me, entering the cold adult world. I became cemented in my Christian faith and went off to seminary to study further before abandoning the faith completely. I got married. I got divorced. I moved halfway across the country to a new city where I knew no one, but ended up meeting some of my closest friends. Through therapy, I came to understand that I struggled with depression and I began trying to climb out of that dark hole.

That’s a lot of life for any one band to provide the soundtrack, but somehow, Underoath pulled it off. Spencer Chamberlain’s own inner demons were battled consistently throughout the band’s catalogue. They openly and honestly wrestled with the complicated nature of faith and belief. Their constant shifts in sound were a perfect fit for the many city, apartment, and job changes I experienced. And I’m forever grateful for what they created, because it’s hard to imagine surviving the chaos of those years of my life without their music.

Further Reading: Reinventing Their Exit: Reflections on the Music of Underoath

The year 2010 brought Underoath’s Disambiguation, an album that closed a chapter for the band and preceded their breakup. That final note somehow perfectly bookended a period of my life, as everything would change in 2011. A new relationship. A new city. A new community of friends. A new start. By the time I found my footing, Underoath would return with the perfect album for new beginnings. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

I’m excited to explore the next two eras of my life that bring us to the present day, because each of them holds important moments of progress for me, both as a person and as a consumer of art. But at this point, I feel fairly confident that no new band or artist will ever hold the level of captivation Underoath has held in my life. And that’s okay. Pretty much all of us have that one band that changed everything. The one band that we can go back to again and again and again without ever tiring. Our favorite band.

As I write this, the summer of 2021 has arrived. And I can’t wait to spin They’re Only Chasing Safety. I know exactly how it will make me feel. And it’s a very good feeling.

Second Tier: Saosin, Paramore, Anberlin, My Chemical Romance, Kanye West

More Reading:

Podcast: Interview with Chris Dudley of Underoath

Illuminator feat Underoath: 15 July 2011

Review: Underoath – Erase Me

Reflecting On: Underoath – Lost in the Sound of Separation

Reflecting On: Underoath – Ø (Disambiguation)

Underoath Return from the Shadows on Rebirth Tour

The Unmatched Urgency of Underoath on No Fix Tour

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 pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Reflecting On: Emery – We Do What We Want

emery-2011-splash

I know what you’re all thinking. Nadia, you’re really going to write about Emery again? Haven’t you said all there is to say about this band? No, friends, I have not, because their magnum opus (at least, what I consider to be their magnum opus) We Do What We Want turns 10 this year.

WeDoWhatWeWant

You can buy or stream We Do What We Want on Apple Music.

Looking back at the 14-year-old kid just breaking the surface into what would be a decade-plus obsession with the alt scene, never would I have thought I would get a chance to talk about how this album made me feel. I grew up to the sounds of this album, much to the chagrin of my conservative parents, who were none too pleased with the album art — a Bible, with the words “we do what we want” emblazoned across the shiny leather. It was honestly because of the edgy album art that I was so drawn to this body of work, and it remains an oft-played album for me.

I originally wanted to do a crazy, hypothetical piece on how each of the songs could be attributed to the Seven Deadly Sins, but that was quickly tossed out when I realized it was, in fact, not the case. I wanted so badly to have that cohesive lede and pathway to guide me through writing this piece, but as Emery explains so eloquently, they do what they want. And so do we. 

As a now 24-year-old kid married for a couple of years and watching the church culture she steeped herself in like a green tea bag slowly crumbling (oop, pun intended), this album is more refreshing and poignant than ever. Emery’s stark description of sin and falling short of what the church thinks Christianity should look like is more relatable now than I ever could have foreseen it to be. If you’ll notice, we never get preached to directly until the end of the album. The guys in Emery never want to be our pastors and judges, they’re just here to tell us, “Yeah, we get it.” And they do.

At 14, Emery got how I felt about the guys I had a crush on, even though spiritually I knew I could never touch those feelings. They got the guilt I felt being just a little bit sneaky with the music I would listen to with my friends, then going home to my parents and pretending we had plenty of good Christian fun. They got the fact that 10 years later, I would be experiencing an intense feeling of loss for the faith and the culture I once knew. Emery foresaw all of these things because they had gone through them.

When I listened to the album at 14, I didn’t realize how I would relate to “I Never Got to See the West Coast”. I didn’t realize that when I would listen to “The Curse of Perfect Days” I would see it as a soundtrack to my teenage years. I didn’t realize that “Scissors” would end up on a playlist I’d make memorializing my grandmother. 

What remains when I listen to We Do What We Want now is a piece of work so intensely intertwined in my thoughts and my faith (or lack thereof). What remains is the everlasting idea that we, in fact, will do what we want. And when I was 14, doing what I wanted, I was building lasting memories with Emery.

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Podcast: The Return of Architects with Drew Beringer

A new album from Architects has arrived and it is very, very good. For Those That Wish to Exist serves as the beginning of a new chapter for the band and a wake up call for those that wish to deny the effects of climate change. All told, there’s a lot to unpack, so we reached out to Drew Beringer to join the podcast and break down his thoughts on the new album, the legacy of Architects, and their impact on the heavy music scene.

Drew shares a bit of his background in joining the AbsolutePunk.net staff and Chorus.fm community before diving into his track-by-track breakdown of For Those That Wish to Exist, including his interview with Architects drummer Dan Searle. Drew also gives his ranking of Architects’ Epitaph Records albums and shares his favorite songs from the new album. Take a listen!

Like our podcast? Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts and be sure to leave a review.

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Architects – For Those That Wish to Exist

Legacy is a big and complicated word, regardless of context, but especially when we apply it to the ongoing work of an active artist. Thus, change can be scary. It raises questions and can cause us to prematurely re-evaluate the total body of work. But in some cases, the passing of time reveals those moments of change to have a lasting effect we never could have known in the moment.

You can buy or stream For Those That Wish to Exist on Apple Music.

We need not wait to discuss the impact of For Those That Wish to Exist as it relates to Architects’ legacy. It is a powerful beginning to a new chapter for a band that has defied the odds and overcome the kind of adversity that makes the existence of this very album astonishing. 

Over the course of their last three records, Architects simultaneously climbed to the summit of metalcore excellence while delivering the swan song of guitarist and primary songwriter Tom Searle. Their last outing, Holy Hell, in which the band constructed a story of grief and resolve with building blocks left behind by their bandmate and brother, was masterful in its feelings of finality. 

What makes For Those That Wish to Exist such a brilliant next step is that it looks, feels, and sounds like something new while maintaining the heart of a band that always wore it on their sleeve. Who would’ve imagined an Architects album featuring orchestral elements, synthesizers, drum machines, and clean vocal deliveries from Sam Carter sounding so true to the band’s mission? Who would’ve thought it would sound this good?

One need not pay mind to the Linkin Park comparisons, which imply a simplification in sound. Yes, many of the more technical metalcore breakdowns are absent, and sure, there are elements of nu metal to be found here, but Architects are interested in experimenting with sound and crafting something distinct. 

The smooth electropop stylings of “Flight Without Feathers”, complete with the most delicate delivery of Sam Carter’s career, still holds the atmospheric weight we’ve come to expect from the band, even if the instruments have changed. The horns on “Dead Butterflies” only magnify the epic nature of one of the band’s most anthemic tracks to date, without Carter ever resorting to a scream. Here, Josh Middleton’s guitar sends the track’s bridge through the roof as opposed to bringing the house down.

Yet for those that wish to hear the band flex their muscle, there’s still plenty to be found. Look no further than mammoth-sized riffs that open tracks like “An Ordinary Extinction” and “Goliath”. The opening verse of “Discourse is Dead” finds Carter shredding his vocal chords atop Middleton and drummer Dan Searle’s chaos, screaming, “Oh it just won’t calculate, a prophesy with a twist / Do you really think Christ was a capitalist?” The heaviness arrives in doses, but when it does, as on the bridge of “Goliath”, it’s breathtaking.

But what truly brings these parts together and turns great moments into a great album is purpose. Carter shares the album’s thesis early on during the pre-chorus of “Black Lungs” as he asks, “What would you do to stay alive if the planet was burning?” Throughout For Those That Wish to Exist, Architects take aim at institutions that wield their power for profit, endangering the future of our species and the survival of our home. On “Giving Blood”, a track that perhaps best showcases the band’s new sonic direction, Carter sings, “Well there’s your eulogy / The water’s polluted / My feathers caught in the spill / Nobody said it would be safe up here”. 

Throughout the album, the band takes special aim at religion and its insistence on ignoring the problem in favor of the promise of an exit to somewhere heavenly. On “Little Wonder”, Carter sings, “If we miss the deadline, we can always blame the divine” before later offering a reprimand: “Nobody could say with a straight face / They didn’t have it coming”. On “Black Lungs” he growls, “You’re gonna taste the ash, you’re gonna taste the dust / ‘Cause this world is dying in our arms”.

For all of the righteous anger found on the album, as the title suggests, the ultimate call to arms of For Those That Wish to Exist is one of personal nature. The idea that every one of us has a decision to make, and collectively, we can make an impact. “Yeah I know that Rome was overthrown, but it wasn’t done alone” sings Royal Blood’s Mike Kerr on “Little Wonder”. On the delicate acoustic closer “Dying is Absolutely Safe”, the band paint an apocalyptic picture, with Carter singing, “It takes a fierce grace to crack us open / A moment sat with our sentencing / And the light comes flooding in / When the leaves fall in the spring”.

For Those That Wish to Exist is an album that benefits from repeated spins, which allow the sonic ebbs and flows to bring a greater picture into view. The only thing holding the album back is its 58-minute run time. With the subtraction of two or three tracks (starting with “Demi God” – the band’s first bad song since Daybreaker), and the album becomes another masterpiece. With that in mind, go forth and make the For Those That Wish to Exist playlist that suits you.

Time will tell how we place the album amongst some of the more colossal releases in the band’s catalogue. But For Those That Wish to Exist is a commanding step into a new era for Architects and one that should satisfy longtime fans of the band while offering an open door for more to join the journey. The legacy of Architects remains one of strength, purpose, and resolve – something that is solidified by this new chapter.

4.5/5

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 pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Underoath Observatory Kicks Off with “Lost in the Sound of Separation”

I attended a concert on Friday. Sure, I wasn’t standing front row in a sweaty venue, camera in tow, earplugs in place, absorbing the experience amidst a sea of other fans. But I still enjoyed every second.

Underoath, who recently completed a live-streamed Twitch series breaking down each of their albums, have begun a string of three shows on consecutive Fridays titled Underoath Observatory. Each show will explore one album in its entirety. The event kicked off with Lost in the Sound of Separation and will be followed by Define the Great Line on July 24 and They’re Only Chasing Safety on July 31.

Aaron Gillespie (screengrab by Twitter user @jmcjmc451)

This experience was obviously a no-brainer for me. Although I’ve seen the band live nine times, I never turn down another opportunity if it’s within driving distance. And this Friday’s performance of Lost in the Sound of Separation – my favorite album from my favorite band – is something I’ve been waiting on for a long time.

Two years ago, on the album’s 10th anniversary, I pondered why the album hasn’t been given a fair shake alongside Define and Safety since the band’s reunion. I was fortunate to see Underoath during their headlining tour for Separation in 2008, but even then, several key songs from the album (including my favorite, “A Fault Line, A Fault of Mine”) were left off the playlist. Having the chance to see the album performed in whole, filling in the gaps on my “Underoath Songs I’ve Seen Live” bingo card, was something I couldn’t pass up.

Spencer Chamberlain (screengrab by Twitter user @jmcjmc451)

The band has long been heralded as a great live act, putting more effort than most into their on-stage production. Seeing Underoath live is more than just seeing the six members perform on stage. Each tour is like its own piece of performance art. And in typical fashion, the band has spared no effort in this endeavor. Thankfully for fans, so many musicians have taken the pandemic as an opportunity to explore live-streamed performances, but Underoath Observatory is on another level.

From the lightning to the camera work to the fantastic quality of the sound production, Friday night’s performance felt every bit like experiencing the band up close and personal (minus the sweat and ear-ringing). Each track felt special, but seeing the band explore songs never performed on stage was a delight. The liberty the band took on album closer “Desolate Earth: The End is Here” may have been a highlight.

But then again, it’s hard to pick one moment. About an hour after the stream ended, the rendered video from the performance was put online for ticket-purchasers to re-visit. Without hesitation, I poured myself another drink and relived the experience again.

In times like this, we savor every opportunity we can find to cherish our favorite music. It’s not lost on fans how important it is to support the artists we love who have lost their ability to make a living on the road. If you’re a fan of Underoath (or heavy music, in general), you can still grab tickets to the next two performances at UnderoathObservatory.com. And don’t forget to snag a vinyl copy of one of the three albums.

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 pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Podcast: Talking Monomania with Tyler “Telle” Smith of The Word Alive

It’s been over 10 years since Phoenix metalcore act The Word Alive dropped their debut album, Deceiver. Since that time, the band has evolved into something completely new, as best captured on their latest release, Monomania. Lead vocalist Tyler “Telle” Smith joins Kiel Hauck to discuss the band’s sixth album and how The Word Alive has continued to push themselves to create something that not only impacts their fans but stands the test of time. Smith also discusses how data now informs touring schedules and setlists and what it feels like to share new songs on stage. Listen in!

Like our podcast? Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts and be sure to leave a review.

What is your favorite song from Monomania? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

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.

Issues Return with New Single “Tapping Out”

I’ll be honest – with three years passing since their last album and the loss of vocalist Michael Bohn in 2018, I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear that Issues were hanging it up. What a treat then to receive new music in the form of single “Tapping Out” last Friday.

I’ve been a fan of Issues since their inception in 2012 when the band formed from the ashes of Woe, Is Me’s first fallout. While the Black Diamonds EP showed their potential, it was 2014’s self-titled debut album that has remained a summer staple of mine. Full of infectious hooks from Tyler Carter and a manic blend of pop, electronic and metalcore, Issues is the kind of album you can let down your guard with and have a good time.

“Tapping Out” feels like it has the potential to tap back into (no pun intended) that kind of energy – something that felt lacking from the band’s 2016 follow-up Headspace. For over a year, fans have wondered what this band would become with Bohn’s absence, and unsurprisingly, Carter holds his own here atop a track as heavy as any the band has written. Sure, the screaming is nearly gone, but those drop-D tuned guitars provide a nostalgic crunch that keeps your head nodding.

It’s clear that Tyler and company have some bones to pick, and it’s likely that the as-of-now unannounced third album will dig deeper into those feelings. Regardless of what’s to follow, it’s exciting to know that Issues are still here and still capable of writing the kinds of songs that make you want to turn up the volume and roll down your windows. Take a listen to “Tapping Out” below and hear for yourself.

You can download “Tapping Out” here.

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: A Day to Remember – Homesick

The largest crowd I ever saw for a performance at Warped Tour was for A Day to Remember at Indianapolis in 2009. That afternoon, I watched from the top of a small hillside, looking down into a grassy valley where the Hurley Stage sat as a massive crowd moshed like a single organism. It was out of a fear of missing out that I downloaded Homesick a day later to see what all the fuss was about. I burned the album to a CD, which remained in my car stereo for the rest of the summer.

You can buy or stream Homesick on Apple Music.

I was obviously aware of A Day to Remember prior to that sweltering afternoon in 2009. A few different friends had played me various tracks from the band’s debut, For Those Who Have Heart, but none of them stuck. In those early days, I viewed A Day to Remember as a diet knock-off of the bands I loved, like Underoath, Chiodos, or Story of the Year. I’m still not totally sure I was wrong, but there was something about the way things came together for the band on their sophomore breakthrough that just made sense.

You don’t need a 10-year retrospective to tell you that Homesick found the perfect balance of metalcore and pop punk, full of silly breakdowns and one-liners topped off by sugary choruses. It’s an album that quite literally set the tone for the next 10 years of the scene, and it did so simply by having fun.

Truth be told, A Day to Remember would further perfect the very sound they helped turn into trend with later albums like What Separates Me from You and Common Courtesy, but even so, there’s still not a single album of theirs that puts a smile on my face quite like Homesick. From front to back, I know the words to every song and can perfectly synchronize my head banging to every cheesy breakdown. If you haven’t shouted along to Jeremy McKinnon’s cry of, “Disrespect Your Surroundings!” with a friend in the car on a summer drive, have you really lived?

Some of my personal favorite tracks include sing-along choruses, like those found on “My Life for Hire”, “NJ Legion Iced Tea”, or “Holdin’ it Down for the Underground”. Whether the band is flexing their drop D tuned guitars on “You Already Know What You Are” or taking a poppier approach on “Homesick” or “Have Faith in Me”, the album truly serves as an intersection for fans of almost any corner of the scene. Even those that sneered at the band or posted grouchy retorts on online message boards were probably secretly into this record, right?

Unlike many of our retrospective features, I’m not here to tell you what a deep emotional impact Homesick made on me or how it changed the way I listened to music. Instead, Homesick served its purpose in helping me put my guard down and drop my tendencies toward music snobbery. Sometimes music is at its best when it’s helping us have a good time, enjoy good company, and sing aloud with abandon.

That’s what I remember most about that Warped Tour performance. As Mike Hranica from The Devil Wears Prada joined the band onstage for the bridge of “I’m Made of Wax, Larry, What Are You Made Of?” and the crowd went absolutely bonkers, I remember being struck by how something so seemingly mundane could be so communal and joyful. A Day to Remember had a knack for breaking down walls between music fans of various genres and bringing them together. I’m glad I decided to join in on the fun.

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.