Review Summary: This is what happens when "mathcore" grows up. An excellent display of restraint, flair, intensity and creativity.
The only thing that causes more problems than expectations is when the opposite happens. Expectations are, to be frank, a motherfuc
ker. Sure, it's always good to know what you're getting yourself into; the problem is that often times your opinion on the final product is going to be impure because of it. How can you truly make an objective opinion on something when you have any real background knowledge to it prior?
The End is one of those bands that are releasing an album that totally fuck
s with people's expectations. I fell victim to this. When I heard the band was releasing a new album, I wondered several things. Would the album be more technical than their past outings? Would they continue to evolve beyond their original grindcore sound? Will they finally separate themselves from the Dillinger Escape Plan
The End has done a lot with this new album. They've done a lot to further evolve their sound; they've done a lot to distinguish themselves. But the most significant thing they've done was piss a lot of people off.
I was a fan of the End, and Elementary
has insured that it'll stay that way.
To be totally honest, I fail to understand how anyone who calls themselves a fan of this band could be surprised or disappointed with this album. Sure it's definitely a more calculated, more refined and less chaotic approach to their trademark "mathy" sound, but anyone who's listened to their first and second album would be turning a blind eye to the obvious momentum these guys have been building. They've evolved for the better.
The End has changed, no doubt. While vocalist Aaron Wolfe still screams his heart out, this time around it's counter-acted by the inclusion of clean vocals. In fact, clean vocals mostly dominate the album. Contrast as a whole plays a major role in the vocal delivery on Elementary
. The harsh vocals are definitely still there, only this time around they seem more natural, more emotive and most importantly, more intelligible. The inclusion of clean vocals is one of many changes the band has made. A group formerly plagued by comparisons (Dillinger this, Escape Plan that), has distinguished themselves with a more controlled vocal approach.
They've certainly retained an element of their trademark chaotic sound, but this time it's not so headache inducing. More concerned with the end result than the process involved, the End no longer focuses on relentless time-shifting and angular dissonance. While Animals does rely heavily on confusion and aggression, it never comes close to matching the unrelenting approach taken on the group's last effort. What you'll find on this album is what I believe to be an excellent display of contrast. The band still lets loose from time to time, but the album is wholly paced on the slower front.
Don't get the idea that this is a technically inclined band that's been dumbed down to sell records. While Elementary
is definitely easier to take than the band's earlier material, they can definitely still play. Thematically the band is also more focused. While in no way does the album follow a defined theme or story, there's a definite connection between songs. Each track on the album features excellently penned lyrics, all of which seem to deal with fear, seclusion, and destruction, certainly a welcome change from the massive amounts of incest, murder and torture found on Within Dividia
. In fact, the lyrics are what bring the album to another level of excellence. While Animals and Dangerous are perhaps the least impressive lyrically, songs like Throwing Stones
and The Never Ever Aftermath
really show creative depth and versatility. Lines like, "it was only a spark, and now we're engulfed in flames" really add to the apocalyptic vibe I get from the album. The only time the lyrics really falter is when they turn a little too cliché for their own good, the main offender of this being, "all these sticks and these stones are going to break our bones". But because both my favourite and least favourite lines are found in the same song (Throwing Stones
), I'm willing to issue a pardon.
Perhaps one of the most excellent things, in regards to lyrics and thematics, is that the packaging does more than live up to their previous album. Elementary
comes in a digipack, much like Within Dividia
, but while the latter was designed around the house in which the concept took place, the booklet for Elementary
shows several images blended in the background to give light to the lyrics. In regards to Dangerous
, you have a building with the phrase "Dangerous Structure, Asbestos Present", and behind the lyrics for Awake
sits a chained and masked human, sorrowfully glancing downward. While simplistic in nature, the photography and placement of the images in the booklet support my earlier statement; they reflect a fairly destroyed society, one that's seemingly not far off. Though perhaps not as instantly impressive as the packaging for Within Dividia
, the outstanding artwork and well through out imagery make this album a purchase rather than a download. My only real qualm with the artwork is the member portraits; on the opposite side of the booklet, each page of the booklet has a member of the group staring "mysteriously" into the camera, oddly smoothered in make-up. Other than this, though, the packaging is definitely a major, major attraction for me. I'm shallow, I can't help it.
With all this talk about change, I've forgotten the most important part. The music. The line mentioned earlier, "it was only a spark, but now we're engulfed in flames", is surprisingly representative of the turn this band has taken. Carrying around the awkward and non-descript "post-grind" label, Elementary
solidifies the band's place as something more. The album still retains much of their original sound, but as mentioned earlier, it's mostly slower. The overall sound on the album focuses more on building tension than it does confusion and chaos. Elementary
shows the group taking their time, with every song taking building and developing at it's own pace. The aural tension found on the album is astonishing, and it kicks in instantly with Dangerous
opens the album with a dual drum attack that's as tribal as it is militant. When I saw the group perform this track live, frontman Aaron Wolfe had a drum around his neck and his percussion accompanied Anthony Salajko's drumming, adding an interesting dynamic I would have otherwise been unaware of. Dangerous
also introduces the listener to Aaron Wolfe's newfound love of clean vocals. Sounding like a more straight-forward and less tone deaf Cedric Bixler, Aaron's clean vocals add yet another new dynamic to the group.
The interplay between harsher tones, the group's familiar love of dissonance, clean vocals and post-rock structures allows the listener to be roped in. By the time you make it to the album's closer, a track that begins sounding quite a fair bit like the The Mars Volta
's The Widow
, you'll hardly notice that nearly an hour has passed. And Always
... is the perfect way to end the album. Though it begins by bordering on power-ballad territory, the album's climax comes along with a marched tempo, all of which make for and oddly suffocating experience.
Certainly not for everyone, the End has managed to finally defy conventions. Still as technically capable as always, Elementary
is an exercise in restraint, contrast and moods. An album that's extremely passionate, emotive and very well written, Elementary
will shock anyone who's heard the band's earlier work and it'll do a nice job impressing those who haven't. It would be a shame to ignore this. While by no means a flawless effort, it certainly solidifies the End as one of the most interesting Canadian acts. With roots in grind, hardcore, tech-metal and evidently post-rock, Elementary
is a well fleshed out progressive metal album that nobody could have expected.