Review Summary: The next band to attempt carrying the ATDI torch. Think The Fall of Troy meets Million Dead but a little rough around the edges.
As I write this, it's about halfway through 2007. At the Drive-In was a great band. I remember them too. Apparently so do hundreds of imitators. First there was Sparta, obviously. They were great, but their energy and importance was really just a diluted version of At the Drive In's. Then there was Brazil. They tried to mesh punk energy with more interesting chord phrasings, and even got signed to Fearless records, but ended up tripping on their own feet and goofy production. Bands like Million Dead and The Blood Brothers took very specific aspects of the ATDI style and took them off in tangential directions, but ultimately the former broke up and latter skidded off the path towards a woeful blend of dance punk and indie. In 2004, the world was given The Fall of Troy, a band that was immediately fawned over by critics and fans alike. But, three LPs later and countless youtube videos of 12 year olds imitating Erak's pull off and hammer techniques with robotic perfection, The Fall of Troy too have lost their allure, both technically and emotionally. Their most recent album, released earlier this year, Manipulator
, is decidedly lackluster. It would seem that the legendary status of ATDI is still untouchable, six years later. They were energetic yet pensive, raw yet refined, and interesting and forward-thinking without sacrificing their punk roots. To mix punk and progressive midway through 2007 is really just a throwback to what ATDI achieved (and even with a more universal success considering their major label status and hit single "One Armed Scissor") and may be a dead end trail as proven by the aforementioned band.
So why the hell does La Cosa Nostra think they can pull it off? To be real, I don't know. There are a lot derivative moments on this album. The distorted vocals lean heavily on techniques developed by similar ATDI imitators For the Mathematics. A lot of the general feel of the album seems straight off of Million Dead's Song to Ruin
. The entirety of "Open Doors" might as well be inserted as track 6 on that album. "Replacement of Wolverine Skulls" could easily fit neatly onto The Fall of Troy's Doppelganger
excepting the weird Bear vs. Shark-like sparse verse. "Saddle Your Alpaca" has odd, angular guitar that indulges in Mars Volta-esque dissonances (think "Cygnus..."). They seem to be tapping into that whole prog + post-hardcore thing that's been championed by magazines like Alternative Press in recent years. If you want to criticize La Cosa Nostra for anything, it's for wearing their influences on their sleeves.
However, getting past the fact that this album is stitched together from other post-hardcore albums, the actual songs and musicianship are pretty impressive. The songwriting is tight. While there are goofy, incongruous moments like the aforementioned Bear vs. Shark break, in general, La Cosa Nostra has a knack for constructing fun, well-paced songs. Their energy is really likable. The best moments on any given song are typically when all of the musicians are going balls out because La Cosa Nostra is a band that excels when they feel the most fun or youthful rather than cerebral or wise. For example, "Shut Yo Mutt" doesn't really break until 1:11 and up until there is as exciting and awesome as any post-hardcore song to have been released in the past few years. If looking at the punk vs. prog dynamic on this album, they're typically their most fun when the drumming resembles punk more than prog, no matter what the guitarist, bass, and vocals are doing. A final nitpicking note about the songwriting is that La Cosa Nostra excels when they use major keys instead of minor keys. The awesomeness of "Shut Yo Mutt" is hindered by the cheesiness of the harmonic minor opening, and just makes the intro sound more like The Fall of Troy and less like a unique, original idea.
Another great part of La Cosa Nostra is their technical prowess. It's hard not to think of Thomas Erak of The Fall of Troy when looking at the guitar. The guitarist alternates between savagely fast pull-off and hammer riffs and quickly strummed, high-pitched chords. While this aesthetic may seem a direct ripoff of Erak's style, it is performed with equal if not better flare and speed, and engages in a wider variety of styles. The chill interplay between guitar and the other instruments on "Foreshadowing" would never be found on a Fall of Troy album. The Million Dead post-punk riffing and octaves at the end of "Open Doors" would be lost in the wankery of Doppelganger
. Moving on to the drumming, as I mentioned earlier, punker equals better. There are lot of interesting drum breaks and intense accents (think "Replacement of Wolverine Skulls," which is technically the most impressive song on the album), but the drums feel most at home when they're smashing out an awesome double time feel for all the other instruments to shred over. I mean, I don't want to relegate the drums to some kind of second tier position because the guy is obviously pretty awesome at his instrument, but the drumming can really carry some of the weaker songs when it pursues their coolest, fastest moments. Maybe a crazier alternation of the two style could yield a perfect union of both worlds. Finally, the bass surprised me. For bands with insane, upstaging guitarists (Tera Melos, The Fall of Troy, etc.), it's easy for the bass to get lost in the mix. With La Cosa Nostra that is not a problem. The bass shreds it up with the other instruments and doesn't even feel cheesy like fast basswork sometimes can. My favorite moments on the bass though are on the more open track "Foreshadowing," where the bassist throws in some perfect Saetia-like harmonizations and fills. Overall, the instruments are awesome.
So what do we take away from this album? If you're willing to accept that La Cosa Nostra is just another grandchild of At the Drive-In and are pretty transparent with their influences, you've got yourself a fun, impressive collection of post-hardcore song. Considering these songs are all demoes for an EP, I can imagine a full-length with better production and more time for La Cosa Nostra to develop their own voice as a band will yield a pretty awesome LP. However, right now, La Cosa Nostra is youthful, fun if a little blunt with their machine-gun riffing and relentless tempo.