Review: Story of the Year – Wolves

It’s no secret that this has been a challenging year in the music scene. 2017 has been harsh and unforgiving, this seen particularly in the loss of several major figures in alternative music. Returning from a seven-year hiatus, Story of the Year tackles these issues of mental health and feeling alone, as well as fatherhood and feelings of mediocrity, in their latest album, Wolves.

You can buy Wolves on iTunes.

The album begins with a haunting minute-long instrumental intro which sets the stage well for what appears to be a concept album. From almost every standpoint (lyrically, musically, compositionally) Wolves is full of surprises. When you listen to Story of the Year, you expect morose lyrics surrounded by an equally moody soundtrack, but this album finds a new lightheartedness. Story of the Year haven’t lost their signature sound, but they’ve definitely matured.

In an interview with Fuse, front man Dan Marsala went through the album track by track, offering a bit more background into the stories that compose Wolves. Two of the tracks are about Marsala’s family, which is not generally a theme we find in this genre of hard rock/punk. It’s refreshing and new – something this scene, filled with sad songs about breakups and ordering pizza at 2 a.m., needs desperately.

His lyrics are the same as any fathers would be: worrying about how to raise his kids in this crazy world and how to provide for them. Both tracks, “A Part of Me” and “Give Up My Heart”, are beautifully written and meaningful but still hard-hitting and don’t sound anywhere close to the lullaby you would expect from someone writing about his family.

The album was recorded independently, a path many bands have been taking and using successfully. They used Pledge Music, and the amount of merch and exclusive content for backers is actually insane. (There’s still some items available, as well as copies of the album, for sale on their Pledge page.)

Much of the album was produced by Aaron Sprinkle of Tooth and Nail fame, and honestly, I can hear his input all over the record. He’s very sonically talented and always finds new and exciting ways to elevate the projects he works on.

For as many great moments as you’ll find on Wolves, there is certainly filler as well, including the three tracks leading up to the album closer. While it’s certainly brave of Story of the Year to come back with such a lengthy album, you can feel the effects of the seven-year layoff, as well. That isn’t to say there’s a lot of bad tracks, it just feels as though some might have fit better on another album or on a collection of b-sides.

The biggest surprise on Wolves is probably the final track. Story of the Year really went with the “go big or go home” approach with this closing song and it’s some of their most impressive work. There’s a spoken word piece thrown into the middle that solidifies the concepts in this album and ties everything together really well. The instrumentation in the final track is also impressive; the band really pushed themselves musically, which offers a counterpoint to the aforementioned layoff. Sometimes a little time off is necessary if a band is to come back and create another set of songs.

One final theme in this album is the band’s struggle with whether to reunite and release new music. When you’ve been a band for as long as Story of the Year (17 years, to be exact), it can be easy to grow monotonous, simply treat it as a job, and lose the passion for the creative process that was once so appealing. After a break, the band is back and seemingly stronger than ever, and Wolves is a beautiful testament to both human struggles and the joy that overrides those.

4.5/5

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva 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.

Wolves at the Gate: The Message of Rise Against

rise_against

I fell in love with Rise Against in the middle of college, during the height of the Bush era. To say it was similar to the political climate of today seems quaint, but I remember the boiling of my blood at the discussion of laws to ban gay marriage, of the sick feeling of being in war or watching the economy catch flame. The Sufferer & The Witness was the first album I had ever heard that took a deep dive into politics (not counting my beloved American Idiot). Appeal to Reason and Siren Song of the Counter Culture quickly became new favorites.

The band released three albums during the Obama years (counting a B-Side album). But I can’t say that I listened to them more than a couple of times, and I stopped listening to their older works almost entirely. I don’t have a reason – it could be that I had gotten tired of ‘revolting’, that they started to sound mainstream or the idea of revolutionary punk rock seemed old hat.

Wolves, the band’s newest release came out over a month ago. I picked up a copy on release day, and didn’t listen to it for weeks. Again, I don’t have a reason other than politics these days is a maddening topic, and the idea of listening to rebel songs when the entire world seems up in arms just feels draining.

I listened to Wolves on a road trip, once our other albums had run out, after I had read some ironically hilarious news about an unfortunate meeting the president’s son had last year. Wolves won me back almost instantly. The hooks were less alternative, and screamed of the raging punk aesthetic I originally loved about the band. More than that, it revived my interest in Rise Against completely. From their first album through Wolves, they are the only band I have been listening to, even the albums I never originally went back to. It’s as though I am listening to the band for the first time again.

So why the change? Wolves is a great record, and feels like a return to basics in many ways. There isn’t as much of an alternative edge to it as The Black Market, instead falling back to a more ‘classic’ style punk. The politics aren’t as razor sharp or as damning as they could be given the last seven months. Instead, this is all common practice, as vocalist Tim McIlrath sings , “Stand by to switch on / We fire on all pistons / We’re singing along but no one is listening / From dusk until dawn, we stay up to carry the flame”, on “Mourning in Amerika”.

Throughout their discography, Rise Against maintain the same themes they have had since at least Siren Song, which is railing against injustice and singing ahead of the army as it grows. During the Bush era, when the news made me red with rage, the lyrics from “Bricks” (Sufferer) rang with me: “We’re setting the fires to light the way / We’re burning it all to begin again / With hope in our hearts, and bricks in our hands / We sing for change”.

To say I was pleased with Obama’s America wouldn’t be entirely accurate, but the fire of anger didn’t burn in me. Rise Against’s fury and rebellion didn’t excite me, because it wasn’t needed. I became much more introspective, obsessing over new waves of punk like The Wonder Years. I rediscovered old favorites that I had set aside because they seemed childish when compared to the political climate (Homegrown and The Ataris). As the Occupy movement climaxed, and Black Lives Matter took to the streets, Rise Against felt redundant, almost unneeded. Why should I listen to rebellion when I am seeing it? Why listen to anthems against oppression when it seemed like Obama was more or less on my side?

Maybe it’s because I hadn’t been as into the band as I had been in youth, but it felt like Rise Against weren’t as effective or as evocative during progressive times. The fight doesn’t seem as just, because the message is already being heard. But in the Trump era, it seems like every hour there is something new to be mad about or annoyed at, someone else perverting the country while the rest of the world leads. There is constantly something else to laugh at because sometimes, that is all that’s left.

All the while, Rise Against sang on.

Perhaps it is personal opinion, or a minor slump in their writing or just that songs of rebellion sound petty when the world seems like it could be on the upward tick. It would have been simple, maybe even beneath them to attack the Trump administration with the rage and venom that Rise Against is fully capable of. Wolves doesn’t go out of its way to attack in the same way that “State of the Union” (Siren Song) does, or tackle hard topics like euthanasia (“Injection”, Sufferer), which poked at the heart of morality.

Where Wolves finds its strength is reminding us that although this administration may seem extreme, it is still just politics. But the country seems awake now and ready to resist. Wolves feels like a culmination of the message the band has spent their career leading the march towards. For a band nearly two decades deep, the album seems to relish in the basics. The guitars are loud, but practical. Sonically, this could have been any one of their earlier albums. The production is flatter than Sufferer or Endgame.

The difference is that is that for what feels like the first time in my lifetime, the country is actually standing at attention and actively watching the world. The message doesn’t have to be as cutting or dramatic, because the people are actually pushing back. Whereas a rallying cry on older albums felt like wishful liberal thinking, lyrics like, “We are the wolves at the gate, our numbers growing everyday, yeah ./ You can’t fight us all, no / You can’t fight”, (“Wolves”) feel more charged and dangerous than they ever could have before.

The Russia scandal and sea of constantly updating news makes a song like “Bullshit” something that has a weight it wouldn’t have had 10 years ago. “But this is bullshit / It’s finally coming into focus / You’re lying and I think you know it but you’re too afraid / To face the storm you helped create / Yeah, this is bullshit / And did you think I wouldn’t notice? / Cracks in your theory are showing like a broken vase / Your grip around me dissipates”.

I meant to review Wolves when it came out, but I just couldn’t; the idea of investing in anything remotely more political than necessary just seemed like masochism. But this album isn’t a political hit piece. It’s a reminder that Rise Against have preached the same message for years about not tolerating injustice and recognizing the fight for culture. The difference is that this time, it seems like the country is listening. I am listening.

And on they’ll sing.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and just watched his cat throw up on a pillow… Cuz why make sick on something easy to clean?