Reflecting On: Saosin – In Search of Solid Ground

By the time Saosin’s second full-length album, In Search of Solid Ground, arrived in September 2009, I felt like I’d been waiting forever. In hindsight, three years doesn’t seem all that long. It would be another seven years before the band would reconvene for 2016’s Along the Shadow. New Saosin music never comes on time, but it’s usually worth the wait.

You can buy or stream In Search of Solid Ground on Apple Music.

By the time the band finally released their full-length self-titled debut in 2006, I was all-in on the band and practically obsessed with everything they did. I owned multiple t-shirts and hoodies, was in attendance at every Saosin show that came near me, constantly talked about the band with my friends, and was a frequent visitor to the band’s online message board. I followed every detail and clue I could find as the band worked on their follow-up to Saosin and waited anxiously outside a Best Buy on release day to be first in line to purchase the album.

In truth, there was no way In Search of Solid Ground could ever live up to my expectations, which had reached a crescendo by the time I picked up The Grey EP the previous fall during the band’s fall tour with Underoath. Saosin was more than an album to me – it was a life experience. It was the kind of record that shapes your musical tastes for the better part of a decade. It was the kind of record you measure every other record against.

But even if a voice inside my head told me that In Search of Solid Ground wasn’t all I had hoped for, I brushed those notions aside and repeatedly dove into the album day after day. First, it was the revamped demos of “I Keep My Secrets Safe”, “The Worst of Me” and “Why Can’t You See?” that grabbed my attention. Then it was upbeat tracks like “Deep Down”, “Changing”, and “Is This Real?” that took center stage. Finally, it was the odd, experimental tracks like “Say Goodbye” and “Fireflies (Light Messengers)” that stole my heart.

Over the past 10 years, In Search of Solid Ground has become a unique kind of record in my collection. One that I revisit once or twice a year and think back to a time when a band could make me feel the way Saosin did, and really no other band has since. Of all of the band’s releases, it’s the one I reach for the least, but it was undoubtedly the one I was most in-the-moment with at the time it released.

To look back, it’s easy to see why the album didn’t land for many fans. Its logjam of producers certainly led to a lack of direction. There’s a little something for everyone on the album, but not necessarily for longtime fans of the band’s chaotic early sound. In Search of Solid Ground contains actual pop songs (“It’s All Over Now”, “What Were We Made For?”) while still containing heavier moments that don’t quite fit in with the rest of the band’s catalogue. If you had to label the album, you’d probably call it alternative rock, but even that ambiguous term fails to capture the full breadth of sounds displayed here. Over time, I’ve found it best to digest the album in various chunks that fit together.

It’s true that I wish the album had contained more of the wild guitar work from Beau Burchell and Justin Shekoski, blistering drums from Alex Rodriguez, and soaring vocals from Cove Reber that had defined their earlier work. But the thing is, the earlier work is kind of perfect – what was left to prove? If In Search of Solid Ground was either an experimental journey for the band or a last gasp before a 2010 fallout left the band nearly defunct, it’s undoubtedly a moment in time that feels different from anything else coming out of the scene at the time.

Ten years later, I’m mostly happy that the album wasn’t the band’s last. It always felt like Saosin was on the verge of either world domination or complete self-destruction, and walking that fine line resulted in some of the best and most unique sounds of the 2000s. After all this time, the band still insists on doing things their own way, which is what makes them so compelling.

And come to think of it, it’s been three years since Along the Shadow. While my youthful superfandom may be long gone, I still await anxiously what, if anything, comes next.

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.

Podcast: The Best of Emery

Last month, Emery released a new 4-song EP as part of Emeryland, an interactive online community that promises exclusive new music leading up to the band’s eighth full-length album. Nadia Paiva joined Kiel Hauck on the pod to break down the band’s discography and discuss how their unique evolution has helped sustain their career and make them one of the most interesting bands to come from the modern post-hardcore genre. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

Interested in checking out Emeryland? You can learn more on the band’s Indiegogo page.

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Reflecting On: Saosin – Saosin

saosin

I believe Saosin’s self-titled full-length debut album to be an example of post-hardcore excellence and a record that shaped the direction of the genre for the next decade. Others disagree, citing the album as an example of Saosin’s squandered potential.

Instead of using the next 800 words to defend my position and re-hash one of the most tired debates in scene history, I’m simply going to tell you how this album has had a deeply profound impact on my life.

You can buy Saosin on iTunes.

You can buy Saosin on iTunes.

I’d be lying if I told you that I was invested in Saosin since the drop of Translating the Name and a member of the band’s old guard. My introduction into the screamo scene happened a year later with the release of Underoath’s They’re Only Chasing Safety. That being said, I became keenly aware of the Saosin hype train shortly thereafter, and like most of the genre’s fan base, eagerly awaited the band’s highly billed debut.

Saosin released during a period of transition in my life, and has seen me through several more transitions since. Just out of college and making my first attempt at being a real adult, the album provided the soundtrack to late shifts at work and long car rides on weekends. During the days when we all still listened to CDs, Saosin firmly planted itself in my car’s stereo and was rarely withdrawn. I can safely say that I’ve listened to the album from front to back more than any other album I’ve ever owned.

Every instrument is played while straddling the line between rock radio perfection and reckless hardcore abandon. Cove Reber’s vocals seem to effortlessly reach ungodly notes on nearly every song without leaning on the then-mandatory crutch of screaming, setting a new precedent for scene vocalists. The production, handled by hit-maker Howard Benson, results in a nearly flawless product.

There’s something about the music that still speaks to my soul. Reber’s lyrics mean the world to me, and I’ll address those in a moment, but I’ve often said that even without vocals, Saosin would still be one of my favorite albums of all time.

The open air and smattered drumming that lead into the signature Saosin guitar squeal during the opening moments of the record on “It’s Far Better to Learn” still sends chills up my spine. Each track on the album bleeds either delicately or chaotically into the next track, creating one of the most fluid listening experiences you’ll have with an album. When the opening riffs of “Sleepers” begin spilling out near the end of the opening track, you realize there’s no need to reach for the skip button.

Saosin is littered with moments that both take my proverbial breath away and breathe fresh air into my lungs. The bridge of “Follow and Feel” remains one of the most pulse-pounding moments in the post-hardcore scene, highlighted by a rapid-fire drumming from Alex Rodriguez that pushes the track onward. The closing moments of “Collapse” find every member of the band going apeshit on their instruments as Reber wails “Open your eyes and let all the light in”. It’s a moment of pure ecstasy.

Reber’s lyrics remain cryptic and ambiguous throughout, but they have never lacked in meaning for me. During a candid moment during the end of the band’s making-of-the-record DVD, Reber begins sharing the inspiration of positivity that impacted his writing, concluding with, “For me, personally, I want to write something that can uplift somebody.” I’m forever thankful for this approach.

It’s rare for a Reber lyric to come across bluntly on Saosin, but it’s the in-between moments that continue to capture my attention. During the pre-chorus of “It’s So Simple”, he sings, “When we fall to the ground, slowly we’re safe and sound”. During the swirling chorus of “Collapse”, he belts, “We are the only ones, we will get up / And we are aware ‘cause we’ve been through it”. As the delicate opening of “Come Close” breaks through, Cove sings, “Remind yourself that they are the ones who will hold you still”.

It’s this persistent theme of intimacy and unity that courses through the album’s veins, serving as its lifeblood, that draws the listener in. By the time should-have-been-crossover-hit “You’re Not Alone” reaches its crescendo, the point is clear: “You’re not alone / There is more to this I know / You can make it out / You will live to tell”. The album’s potentially cheesiest moment is also its calling card.

I’ve written in the past about my struggles with depression and how music has walked by side throughout the difficult journey. Saosin is the album I go to when I feel desperately alone. It’s the record I play during those painful moments of transition. These are the songs that revive me when I’m at my lowest. I keep waiting for the day when it stops working, and while it’s certainly not a cure, albums like Saosin keep me afloat on the days I need it the most.

I believe this album to be one of the great rock records of our generation, and the beauty in the craft of this record is part of what makes it so important to me. But even if you disagree with my thoughts on the album’s merits, we all have those albums we go to when we need a lift. Saosin may not have lived up to everyone’s hype, but I’m eternally grateful that every note landed where it did.

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: Underoath – Define the Great Line

underoath-define-2006

A decade after its release, Define the Great Line remains a pinnacle of the post-hardcore genre and an album by which all others of its ilk are judged.

For Underoath, a band that released four classic records and influenced a new generation of heavy music, Define the Great Line remains their magnum opus – an album that showcases their talent and fearless drive. Still, the album’s very existence in its known form is a startling testament to a band with conviction.

Fresh off the heels of 2004’s breakthrough record, They’re Only Chasing Safety, Underoath had completed their first contract with indie label Tooth and Nail Records, making the Flordia sextet free agents prime for the picking. The band was courted by a host of major labels with big plans to break the group into the mainstream. If you close your eyes in a quiet room, you can almost hear the crystal sheen of a Safety follow-up on Warner Bros. Records, filled to the brim with pop-laden hooks and bouncing guitar riffs.

Instead of cashing in, the band quietly returned to their home at Tooth and Nail and entered the studio with Matt Goldman and Killswitch Engage’s Adam Dutkiewicz. What resulted defied genre expectations upon its release, shirking classification and launching the band to new heights. Define the Great Line turned the screamo scene on its head and dared its audience to follow.

Define is a heavy record, to be sure, but when placed alongside Safety, it’s damn near bone crushing. With hardly a chorus to be found, Define the Great Line found Underoath experimenting outside of conventional song structures, often switching tempos mid-track, keeping the listener off balance at all times. Listening to Define is akin to being dragged down a winding hallway by your shirt collar. But in the most therapeutic way possible.

Whereas Chasing Safety relied heavily on Spencer Chamberlain and Aaron Gillespie’s call and response vocals, Define the Great Line is, without question, Spencer’s record. Chamberlain roars, howls, yells and cries aloud over the madness, only allowing Gillespie brief moments to speak. Those resulting vocal deliveries sound like pleading calls for help against Chamberlain’s manic battle.

All the while, Underoath explored new ground underneath the melee. Tim McTague and James Smith forgo simple riffing for complex chord progressions and bewildering breakdowns with help from bassist Grant Brandell. Chris Dudley’s keyboards and programming transformed from quirky background noise to a haunting bedrock that shifts tracks from disturbing to peaceful and back again.

Several minutes into the mammoth-sized “Casting Such a Thin Shadow”, nearly every trace of old Underoath is gone, with the band orchestrating one of the most beautiful and painful instrumental segments you’ll find on a post-hardcore record. When Chamberlain breaks through at the 3:49 mark with “Speak up, my ears are growing weary”, you feel his need for answers with every fiber of your being. I still remember replaying the track again and again on the day of the album’s release, trying to wrap my head around what I was hearing.

You could fill a book with descriptions of sonic acrobatics found on Define and the breath taking risk that such an endeavor was at the time, but equally impressive was the thematic content. In a genre where lyrical material can reach peak banal levels, Chamberlain experiences one of the most explosive existential crises put to tape on Define the Great Line. Here lies one of the most explicit, painful and ultimately beautiful depictions of a man alone with his thoughts, mistakes and regrets.

Underoath defied presumptions of a faith-based band over the course of their career simply by questioning everything they were expected to proclaim. The gospel preached on Define the Great Line consists of sitting amidst the hardest questions we ask ourselves and finding contentment when the only answer we receive is our own voice echoing off the walls.

This is an idea with which Chamberlain seemed quite familiar. “I stare so delicate and ashamed / At the shell I’ve shed myself from”, Chamberlain cries at the end of “There Could Be Nothing After This”, wrestling with guilt amid his defeat. Later, on “Returning Empty Handed”, he finds himself adrift once more, bellowing, “The floor is more fitting for my face / Here again? This is getting old”.

For all of the existential clamor that pervades each track on Define the Great Line, there exists a furious battle with the idea that we tread this journey devoid of company. During one of the most powerful moments in Underoath’s discography, Chamberlain repeatedly screams “We walk alone” as if attempting to jackhammer the idea into his skull. It’s a concept familiar to many – and one that is easy to accept in the middle of our trouble.

With such weighty content buried inside an experimental brew of the band’s heaviest work to date, it still seems unfathomable that Define the Great Line would translate to such great commercial success. The album debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, moving nearly 100,000 units in its first week, effectively solidifying Underoath as the premier post-hardcore act of the 2000s. It also demanded that any band desiring to follow their lead stretch their boundaries or risk being left behind. It’s fair to say that the genre would never be quite the same.

Nevertheless, Define the Great Line came at a cost and nearly resulted in the premature demise of the band. A work of such transparency spoke to a real divide in the Underoath camp – one that splintered friendships and shook their foundation. Fortunately for fans, redemption ruled the day, much as it does at the end of Define the Great Line.

On “To Whom it May Concern”, Gillespie acts as the faint voice of the light at the end of the tunnel, singing, “At the end of the road, you’ll find what you’ve been longing for / I know ‘cause my feet have the scars to show”. It’s an unexpected twist ending with the album’s loudest theme being carried by its softest song. It’s also signature Underoath – a band motivated by unreasonable hope, devoutly unwilling to compromise its art. Ten years later, Define the Great Line’s message is just as powerful as it has ever been.

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: Saosin – Along the Shadow

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Saosin fans know a thing or two about expectations. In fact, the post-hardcore icons have existed amidst a whirlwind of expectations since their 2003 breakthrough EP Translating the Name. Whether the band has met any of them depends solely on whom you’re asking. Suffice it to say, Saosin has been a lightning rod for heated debate, but there’s no debating the band’s talent.

Even after losing vocal phenom Anthony Green shortly after their debut, the band marched on to mainstream success three years later with Cove Reber at the helm. The band’s long-awaited self-titled album remains a post-hardcore classic and one that jumpstarted an entire subgenre, even if diehard Green fans balked at the sonic shift. Whatever side of the fence you stand on, there has never been any denying of Saosin’s influence and the technical prowess of their individual members.

You can buy Along the Shadow on iTunes.

You can buy Along the Shadow on iTunes.

Where the true problem lies for most fans is in terms of output. After the lukewarmly received (and, once again, long-awaited) In Search of Solid Ground, the band parted ways with Reber, promising that a return to form was just around the corner. You know the story by now – it wasn’t.

Yet here we are, seven years and countless hollow promises later, with the unthinkable on our hands – a new Saosin album with Anthony Green. How could this album possibly live up to the ungodly expectations laid upon it? How could fans ever be satisfied after such a wait? It’s really all a matter of perspective.

Along the Shadow, the band’s self-produced third full-length album, is not an album for the fans. It’s an album made by a band that still has plenty left to say and more ground to explore. It may be arriving late, but it’s certainly not arriving devoid of significance. Along the Shadow isn’t simply a reunion album or a fun trip for nostalgia’s sake. It’s the next chapter in Saosin’s growing legacy.

By now, you’ve heard “Silver String”, the album opener and first released song, 100 times over. What begins as a peculiar Circa Survive-sounding track slowly grows closer to the Saosin you love with every listen. The band’s signature riffs, courtesy of Beau Burchell, come in small doses here, but Green’s beautifully complex melody grows more appealing with each pass. Throughout Shadow, the band playfully experiments with new tempos and structures, building outward to new territory.

On “The Stutter Says a Lot”, Saosin tries their hand at The Moon is Down-era Further Seems Forever with incredibly smooth guitar tones and cool transitions. “Sore Distress” adds the addition of ear-pleasing keyboards atop an extremely experimental track that allows Green to shine, especially on the song’s airy chorus. Not to remove themselves too far from the norm, the track’s crushing bridge is highlighted by thrilling drum patterns, courtesy of Alex Rodriguez.

While Along the Shadow lives largely within the post-hardcore realm of Saosin’s wheelhouse, the band takes time to explore both ends of the spectrum. “Second Guesses” is a surprisingly poppy track reminiscent of “Finding Home”, while “Old Friends” provides a dark and sludgy, almost industrial vibe to one of the heavier tracks on the album. Even within the dense texture of the track, you can still pull out the signature Saosin guitar tones that help the track still feel close to home.

Yet for all of the new ideas and concoctions befitting of an album seven years in the making, the conversation surrounding Along the Shadow will rest firmly on the tracks that fans most identify with the Saosin they’ve been waiting on. And there’s no shortage of moments that remind us that the band are masters of melodic hardcore.

“Count Back from Ten” is the track that old school Saosin fans have been waiting more than a decade for. If the opening riffs don’t harken the ghosts of Translating the Name for you, then nothing will. Rodriguez’s drumming is otherworldly, driving the track through multiple changes of pace, especially during the track’s aching chorus, as Green sings, “And you’ll never find an answer / When you’re waiting there alone”.

“Illusion & Control” best exemplifies the old and new Saosin in a beautiful collision of guitars and Green’s vocals. The chorus is delightfully aggressive and the final minute of the song may be some of Saosin’s best work yet. The track closes with a violent ending, marked by the incredible drumming that made the final moments of “Collapse” so breathtaking on the band’s self-titled album.

Similarly, “Control and the Urge to Pray” will take fans back to the early days with squealing guitars and jerky transitions that keep you on your toes throughout. Green’s cryptic lyrics and off-kilter vocal melodies don’t hurt matters, either, especially as the song builds towards its conclusion: “Always a race to keep you dragging on / Until the currents change / Our days it pays to keep from burning out / You used to care so much”.

Still, for every moment in which Green’s signature cry feels like a homecoming, there’s still a sense in which his desire for a heavier outlet leads to out-of-place aggression. Several tracks on the album are harmed by monotone screeching when a more melodic approach would have sufficed.

“Racing Toward a Red Light”, one of the heavier tracks on the album, relies far too much on Green’s screaming, especially when you consider how delightfully melodic the song’s bridge is. On “The Stutter Says a Lot”, Green’s screaming once again hampers his own vocal patterns with unneeded hostility. For better or for worse, the Reber era of the band was highlighted by Cove’s ability to find soaring melodies that backlit the band’s heaviest breakdowns, something that is largely absent from Along the Shadow.

To dwell on such a hang-up feels like nitpicking of the highest order. What we have on our hands with Along the Shadow is one of the finest post-hardcore albums of the year from a celebrated band that many of us assumed to be gone for good. Whether this is Saosin’s swan song or a comeback story for the ages remains to be seen. For now, the band is once again a heavyweight title contender in the world of rock.

For all of the frustration and anxiety Saosin fans have vehemently vocalized in the time since the band stormed onto the scene in 2003, the payoff has been undeniably great. The band has delivered one of the most influential EPs in scene history and has now unleashed two undisputedly classic albums. Without a doubt, quality prevails – no matter how much we clamor for more.

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 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.

Underoath Return From the Shadows on Rebirth Tour

underoath-rebirth-splash

Nearly three and a half years have passed since Chicago crowded into Metro, an intimate venue in Wrigleyville, to say farewell to Underoath. That night passed all too quickly – an uncomfortable goodbye to a band that didn’t seem quite ready to let go, even as every sound bite and interview pointed to the contrary. The documentary that followed, Tired Violence, showed a band in distress, fighting against the fractures that time creates.

It’s almost surreal then to stand amidst a sold out crowd at Riviera Theatre as the lights go down, the crowd roars, and one of the most powerful and influential post-hardcore bands on the planet makes their grand return.

In truth, the pangs of heartbreak in light of Underoath’s untimely departure hadn’t even passed for many fans by the time the band announced their return late last year. They say time heals all wounds – apparently some wounds require much less time than others. What’s so pleasant about this rebirth, as the band calls it, is that nothing feels forced. It’s a team effort in which everyone seems truly happy to be together again.

Underoath

Underoath

As the Rebirth tour hits Chicago, it’s stunning to witness the response. Riviera Theatre is over twice the size of Metro, but on this night, it’s packed to capacity – breathing room is a luxury reserved for the outdoors. Given the turnout, you’d be inclined to assume the band had been absent for decades. On this night, the buzz in the building rivals that of the band’s initial breakout in the summer of 2004.

Part of the appeal surely lies in the offering. This isn’t a greatest hits tour, per say. Instead, Underoath is playing their two most popular albums, They’re Only Chasing Safety and Define the Great Line, in their entirety. Several songs have never been played live. As two of the most influential post-hardcore albums in recent memory, it’s a special night, indeed.

The only question is, how does the band’s performance hold up three years removed from practice and six years removed from original drummer and singer Aaron Gillespie? Pardon the hyperbole, but the answer is: better than ever.

Hearing They’re Only Chasing Safety in this setting is a nostalgia trip of the highest order. As Spencer opens “Young and Aspiring” with the cry of, “Let’s not even try, you’re right / Let’s ball it up and throw it out the window”, the crowd roars the lyrics in unison. It’s incredible to see the band perform these songs all these years later, mostly because the band’s performance has improved so much since those early days.

Underoath rips through Safety, only stopping after the final notes of “It’s Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door” to address the crowd. Hearing tracks like “Down, Set, Go!” and “I’m Content With Losing” performed for the first time is a wonderful nod to the past. As two of the most enjoyable Safety tracks to sing along to, it’s still shocking that they’ve never made their way to the stage until now.

Underoath

Underoath

They’re Only Chasing Safety was a gateway drug for many, introducing legions of fans to not only Underoath, but to heavy music. In hindsight, it was a primer for everything that came to follow. After a short break, the band returns to the stage to launch into Define the Great Line, their groundbreaking follow-up. The transition from melodic screamo to ambient post-metal is jarring. Safety is a fun record, but Define marks the moment that Underoath dropped the gloves. It’s a magnificent piece of art in its own right, but in a live performance, it’s absolutely soul-rattling.

From the opening moments of “In Regards to Myself” to the final whispers of “To Whom it May Concern”, Underoath are in rare form. Guitarist Tim McTague and keyboardist Chris Dudley bounce about the stage with youthful energy, harkening back to the band’s early days. The complexities of Define’s track list allow Gillespie to flex his muscles behind the kit, even throwing in some extra fills when appropriate. During the final moments of “Writing on the Walls”, perhaps the band’s most beloved song, the crowd becomes a choir, led gracefully by Gillespie toward the song’s crushing conclusion.

Coupling the performance itself, the band’s trademark lights and visuals grace the stage. Screens showing accompanying short films and imagery play along with the music, offering an additional element to the auditory experience. While Underoath could have easily ran through this tour on the music alone, it’s this extra care for their craft that has always set the band apart. It’s nearly impossible to leave feeling disappointed.

Throughout the evening, Chamberlain will sporadically address the crowd, mostly sharing how happy the band is to be together again. “None of us thought this would ever happen,” is stated on multiple occasions. Whatever the reasons for the band’s initial demise, and whatever their reasons for reconciliation, is of little concern. Seeing the sextet on stage once more is enough to wash away any lingering apprehension.

When Underoath stepped away in 2013, it left a gaping void in the post-punk scene, mostly because it felt like the band still had life left in the tank. Whether this current rebirth leads to new music or simply offers an outlet for the members to keep playing the songs we all know by heart, it just feels right to have Underoath back in the mix. Judging from the turnout on their current tour, they’ll be welcomed with open arms for however long they choose to stay.

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: Hawthorne Heights – If Only You Were Lonely

hawthorne-heights-2006

A decade removed from the release of If Only You Were Lonely, the second full-length album from Hawthorne Heights, it’s easy to forget just how big of a deal the band was at the time. In a scene that seemed to be thriving on conflict, Hawthorne Heights managed to become the poster boys for alienated alt music fans attempting to grapple with the unlikely screamo explosion. Everyone seemed to know about Hawthorne Heights – and everyone had an opinion.

The Dayton, Ohio, quintet came out of absolutely nowhere in 2004 with the release of their divisive debut, The Silence in Black in White – an album that went on to sell nearly a million copies and become the most successful debut in the history of Victory Records. For every screaming fan in an “Ohio is for Lovers” t-shirt, there stood a staunchly disgusted listener bemoaning the demise of punk music (again).

What became lost in the clamor surrounding the band at the time was something very basic and human – five young men learning how to be in a band and discover their sound. Sadly, it wasn’t until the tragic death of bassist Casey Calvert a year after the release of Lonely that the noise died down long enough for the conversation to shift to something much more nuanced.

Looking back on If Only You Were Lonely, it’s easy to immediately identify the elements that made Hawthorne Heights all the rage in the first place. All of the suspects from the band’s debut remain: crunchy breakdowns, poppy melodies from vocalist J.T. Woodruff, gloomy lyrics dripping in heartbreak, and Calvert’s signature gravelly screams. However, each piece of the puzzle is tightened and polished to a glossy finish, thanks in part to producer David Bendeth.

The album is filled with scene anthems, but the newly found luster shaped multiple songs for radio. The crisp delivery of lead single “Saying Sorry” starkly contrasts the rough production found on the band’s debut, even if lyrics like, “Saying goodbye this time / The same old story / Seeing you cry / Makes me feel like saying sorry” leave much to be desired.

For every perfectly placed melodic guitar riff, Lonely managed to stretch the band in unexpected ways. Tracks like “Dead in the Water” overshadow the band’s emo pop tendencies with much darker instrumentals and post-hardcore-esque passages. In some ways, Hawthorne Heights managed to find a heavier sound even as they scaled back on Calvert’s bellows. If Only You Were Lonely didn’t set any standards or break down any sonic walls, but it did take some mighty steps forward for a band needing to make a statement.

Yet for all of the venom that unfairly rained down on the young band, it’s important to remember just how well they handled adversity. At a time where every band in the world was suddenly able to read the unfiltered opinions of every detractor within reach of a keyboard, Hawthorne Heights seemed playfully unaffected. The song “Where Can I Stab Myself in the Ears” still remains the gold standard for comebacks, named after the hilariously mistyped heckle of a forum member at AbsolutePunk.

In light of the band’s spirit and character, the blow they would be dealt still seems cruel and unfair. The shocking news of Calvert’s passing sent waves of grief across the music scene, forever altering the conversation surrounding Hawthorne Heights. A community of music fans laid down their opinions and rallied around a band in need. For a brief moment, the beauty of that unity seemed to counteract the deep pain that still lingers to this day.

Hawthorne Heights are no strangers to hardship. That the band has continued to evolve and grow as musicians over the course of the past decade is a testament to their will. With five full-length albums and five EPs under their belt, there’s a conversation to be had about the band’s discography and where each era of the band’s sound stands in the minds of their fans.

If Only You Were Lonely served as the soundtrack to my final semester of college, providing a dose of poignancy and nostalgia each time I spin the record. It reminds me of Casey and it reminds me of a time when this sound seemed to blare from every dorm room and passing car. It’s not an album without its flaws, but it is an album chock full of heart.

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.

Most Anticipated of 2016: #3 Underoath’s Unlikely Return

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They’re Only Chasing Rebirth

As post-hardcore finds itself at a crossroads, one of the genre’s linchpins has returned from the abyss. Yes, Underoath have kept their responses on the possibility of new music ambiguous, but with a full U.S. headlining tour slated for this spring, it’s impossible not to be excited by the potential.

It’s quite true that Underoath has nothing left to prove. The post-hardcore sextet left their mark on the scene over the course of their 16-year existence, dropping some of the most influential and important albums the genre has seen. Two of those albums, They’re Only Chasing Safety and Define the Great Line, will be performed in their entirety each night of their upcoming tour.

Just the chance to hear Spencer Chamberlain’s roar alongside Aaron Gillespie’s croon once again is more than most of us could have ever asked for, making their Rebirth tour (and reunion with drummer Gillespie) compelling enough. After last year’s heartbreaking self-released film, “Tired Violence”, who would have expected such a quick reconciliation when the inner-band pain appeared so palpable? Time will tell if all wounds are truly healed.

The band has made no promises on their future and has not ruled anything out, either. Whether this grand reunion is the long farewell that never happened when the band took their final bow in 2013 or a rekindling of a much-needed fire in the scene remains to be seen. Either way, the anticipation is killing us.

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.

Emery Shines on “The Question” Anniversary Tour

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Something that gets lost in the onslaught of 10th anniversary tours is just how hard it is to create something worth celebrating a decade later. Crafting an album that resonates with an audience and influences its genre in such a way as to warrant continued celebration 10 years after its release is something every band strives for. To do it twice? That’s something only the most gifted of bands can claim.

Emery’s 10th anniversary tour for their debut, The Weak’s End, was just a primer. That trek celebrated a band in its beginnings – The Weak’s End was an emo expedition through odd time signature changes, quirky melodies and moments of explosive fury. For as unbridled of a debut as that album was, their breakthrough sophomore effort, The Question, was a refined piece of post-hardcore excellence.

That both albums are so different yet both hold such a place of distinction in the scene ethos speaks volumes to Emery’s songwriting capabilities and their capacity to evolve.

Supporting on this 10th anniversary tour for The Question is The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, a worthy contemporary that no doubt was inspired over the years by Emery’s output. Although it’s been a few years since Red Jumpsuit relinquished their stranglehold as rock radio celebrities, they haven’t lost their spark. In particular, vocalist Ronnie Winter sounds stronger than ever before.

The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus

The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus

It’s certainly a treat for everyone in attendance to hear smash singles like “Face Down” and “Your Guardian Angel”, but the band shines when playing their newer material as well. Winter forgoes his usual screaming parts, instead letting his brother Randy carry the guttural load. The payoff is that Winter is free to let his wide vocal range explore new territory as he takes worthwhile liberties with the melody. It’s not hard to imagine The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus embarking on their own 10th anniversary tour next year for their debut, Don’t You Fake It.

For a band as special as Emery to still be active nearly 15 years into their career (the band released You Were Never Alone earlier this year), it’s hard to complain about a commemorative tour of this nature. Even so, it’s difficult not to feel the harsh absence of Devin Shelton, the savory harmony to vocalist Toby Morrell’s sweet melody. The unique mixture of Shelton and Morrell’s vocals is something that placed Emery ahead of their peers through the years.

Emery

Emery

Even so, the rest of the band is in fine form. Drummer Dave Powell brings power to heavier moments on tracks like “Returning the Smile You Have Had from the Start”, while guitarist Matt Carter drives forward “Studying Politics” with poppy riffs and Josh Head’s synthesizers and spastic screams add energy to the set. Part of what makes The Question so unique is the band’s ability to combine so many elements to the mix while remaining exceedingly accessible.

If The Weak’s End was an excuse to thrash about alone in your bedroom, The Question provides release in the form of dancing and group sing-alongs. Everyone in attendance croons in unison to the lyrically poignant “Listening to Freddie Mercury” and jumps about to the fast-paced chorus of “Left with Alibis and Lying Eyes”. It’s a testament to legendary producer Aaron Sprinkle that The Question flows so effortlessly from front to back, even with all of its idiosyncrasies. It’s a testament to Emery that the album plays so well in a live setting all these years later.

In truth, Emery would have been hard pressed to recreate the manic magic of The Weak’s End. The band’s choice to write concise, melodic post-hardcore songs on their follow-up perhaps not only extended their career, but served as the building blocks for so many bands that would follow in their footsteps. If anyone wondered in 2005 if there was room in the screamo scene for a band as pensive and peculiar as South Carolina’s Emery, the answer is in The Question.

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.