You probably stumbled across this review after having heard the name Saetia thrown around by several emo/hardcore aficionados attempting to plant themselves at the top of their respective food chains. Saetia was a short-lived screamo band (lasting from February 1997 to October 1999) from New York. However, despite their short lifespan, Saetia managed to establish themselves as one of best screamo bands of all time. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the buzz about this band came after their breakup.
During Saetia's life, they experienced moderate success in the hardcore underground. They were signed by Level Plane records not long after forming. While on Level Plane, they managed to put together two 7"s (Eronel and Saetia) and a self-titled LP/CD in addition to a demo cassette and a contribution to an ABC No Rio (the New York club where they coincidentally played their first and last shows) benefit CD.
So, why the history lesson? Well it's essential to understand this album. A Retrospective is a compilation of every song ever released by Saetia. For its entire 72 minutes, A Retrospective delivers throat-shredding screams and fierce guitars, but above all and most importantly, raw emotion.
Saetia's style of screamo can seem inaccessible to some. They tend to be rather spastic at times, immediately switching from a quiet guitar riff with hushed, almost poetic lyrics to heavy guitar with blood-curdling screams that pound your ears with no mercy. Also, on some songs, lead singer Billy Werner's vocals can be rather odd. Some are essentially him speaking into the microphone, others are screams that register rather high on the vocal range (this may be a turn-off for the chauvinistic types). However, it is these eccentricities that make A Retrospective all the more enjoyable. You may find yourself impatiently waiting to hear Werner launch into one of his bizarre mixtures of spoken-word vocals and high-pitched screaming.
OK, before I break this album down further, let's establish one thing: there is no "best" song here. All the songs are phenomenal pieces of work which all display a level of emotion that is currently lacking far too much in the majority of emo/screamo bands. Now that that's out of the way, let's proceed. A Retrospective opens with a brief crescendo of feedback-ish sound that gives way to the frantic screams of Notres Langues Nos Trompent, a definite standout due to the high level of energy that is present for all but about 20 seconds in the middle of the song. Four tracks in, Woodwell serves as a brief instrumental intermission (strangely Slint-esque) from all the sorrow and anger saturating the air at this point. After another four songs, Postlapsaria comes up to bat. The song contains a heavy section with yelped vocals bookended by quieter sections. In the quieter parts, Billy Werner moans sorrowful poetry amongst guitars that seem just as sad as Werner does. By the time track 13 rolls around, you are chest-deep in self-pity. This song, The Burden Of Reflecting, comes to the rescue and kicks your ass. It begins and ends with fast-paced guitar work and vocals that are about as subtle as an African elephant stepping on your face. Two especially great tracks follow: Closed Hands, which employs a similar vocal style as The Burden Of Reflecting, and One Dying Wish. The latter contains an excellent sections where all of the band's members (well...maybe not the drummer, this isn't Genesis) scream out the question, "When did we begin?!" This produces a stunning effect that really makes you feel the emotion that the band is trying to convey. After the 17 "core" tracks of A Retrospective are over, the listener is treated to five live recordings of the band (these are the Untitled Hidden Tracks). While the recording isn't the greatest, you can still feel the band's emotion tearing through the area around them.
All in all, A Retrospective is an excellent record of an excellent band's history. It is a must have for any fan, whether new or long dedicated, of the emo or hardcore genres.