Review Summary: Alesana achieves only what they were supposed to; and that's create an adequate follow up to their debut.
Alesana is a young post-hardcore band out of North Carolina, the first in fact to sign with Tragic Hero Records in 2005. Since then, they've moved onto Fearless Records, which re-released their debut album On Frail Wings of Vanity and Wax with cooler album art and a couple bonus tracks. Now enter Where Myth Fades to Legend, the group's sophomore effort and allegedly the product of a more mature band this time around. Well, I guess after reading my review you can be the judge of that.
People who have listened to Alesana generally know what they sound like. They use two primary vocalists, Shawn Milke (clean vocals, occasional high shriek) and Dennis Lee (rhaspy screams, low growls) combined with three guitars in attempt to create a dynamic post-hardcore sound. Guitarist Adam Ferguson contributes some higher pitched screams, but a lot of listeners are unable to seperate his voice from Dennis'. This record also includes the addition of vocal work done by bassist Shane Crump, so you could assume the vocals get pretty "all over the place" at times with four different people screaming into their respective microphones. Now I'm going to slip into more of a track-by-track description, to give you an idea of how this album played out for me.
The album opener This is Usually the Part Where People Scream features an intro full of nice guitar work, but it's awfully reminiscent of a Scary Kids Scaring Kids riff (The Deep End, perhaps). The verse part hits with energy and the chorus is immensely catchy, which is to be expected from an album opener. The song, on the whole, is a highlight track, but it also marks the beginning of a (perhaps unhealthy) trend that Alesana has slipped into: breakdowns. And they try way too hard to make them sound heavy. With that being said, the breakdown in this particular track is introduced via a semi-adequate buildup, so it doesn't sound overly forced. During this track and throughout most of the album, there will be listeners who will cringe upon hearing some of the lyrics.
"Welcome to the show, it's a chance to save the world or lose the girl. Let's save the world! Heroes will save the day!"
To sum the lyrics up right now, they are pretty bad. But the fashion in which they are delivered can be looked at as somewhat of a redeemer on some tracks.
Goodbye, Goodnight for Good is a track that was featured on the special edition of On Frail Wings of Vanity and Wax. This version, however, is a minute shorter, and includes an all-filler breakdown at the end. The first two and a half minutes hold up pretty well though, as Shawn is sounding above average, Dennis is screaming well, and guitars are successfully setting the tone of the track. The last 40 seconds sounds like a completely different song however, complete with generic breakdown and a bit of tremolo picking. It definitely seems like Alesana has been told how to sound on this album. 2 tracks, 2 breakdowns. The other version of this song is a better listen.
The first single off the album is called Seduction. It's a track full of catchy moments and pop elements. Shawn succeeds in carrying this track vocally. However, and as is the case with most of the album, there is little musicianship to speak of. Alesana may sound a little bit tighter on this album than on Frail Wings.. (and probably due to production), but overall there is not enough innovation as far as the guitar work. The chorus on this track is good, but perhaps not as memorable as others on the album. Dennis gets a few sections to show off his vocal ability, but there's nothing outstanding here. There is a neat harmonizing solo near the later stages of the song, and the ending consists of a one minute acoustic outro, complete with a couple chunky basslines. It sounds okay, but out of place.
A Most Profound Quiet was the first track Alesana released onto their MySpace before the album's release. It opens with a few catchy riffs, but these don't quite stack up to the ones featured on the opening track. The verse parts consist of some of better alternating vocals between Shawn and Dennis. The buildup to the hook features some nice work from all vocalists, leading into a chorus that is catchy, but some will be turned off by the pitchy clean vocals from Shawn, who's sister is also featured on the song, providing vocal backing for the chorus. The ending provides a good example of what I mentioned before about the "all over the place" vocals.
Red and Dying Evening is another track that Alesana fans will be familiar with, as it was featured on their EP release. It opens up with an assault of double bass and screams from Dennis. This is undoubtedly the most aggressive song on the record. For the most part, the vocals on this version of the song sounds similar to the EP version, especially Shawn's parts. But the production is cleaner, there are a couple nice guitar licks added in, the double kicks are beefier, and the growls are more menacing. This is one of the better performances from Dennis, and there's some nice shrieks from Adam as well.
Better Luck Next Time, Prince Charming features an intro I swear I've heard from several other bands before. The first verse features elementary guitar work and some lacking vocals (complete with cheesy whispers). The bridge in this song is my biggest gripe. It tries a bit too hard to sound pretty, especially with the addition of Melissa Milke on this track as well. The chorus holds up fairly well, complete with a steady dose of double bass and scaling guitar. I would have liked to see them do a little more with this track.
The Uninvited Thirteenth kicks off with some rumbling drums and harsh vocals from Dennis and Adam. There is a heavy part before the conventional cleanly sung verse. The buildup that leads into the chorus is alot more listenable this time around, and the chorus itself has a beat and vocal melody that will get people moving at shows. However, the second verse is quite lacking in terms of vocals and lyrics on the part of Shawn. The song drags its way through an ultimately boring bridge section and features a commencing chorus.
There are some clean overlapping clean riffs to open up Sweetheart, You are Sadly Mistaken. The verse is part is relatively heavy when compared to others on the disc, complete with Dennis doing some decent work alongside the guitars. The bridge featured here is pretty bad though, and doesn't fit at all. In fact there is a section right near the middle of the song that is fairly chaotic, and although it sounds decent while it lasts, that damn bridge comes right back and makes the heavy part sound misplaced and forced. At about the four minute mark, the song acquires a very dance-like beat. Then we get one more chorus (which by the way is a slight disappointment after hearing so many good choruses thus far), followed up by an aggressive ending highlighted by low growls from Dennis, and high shrieks from Adam. This song serves as a pretty good microcosm of the album, in terms of what it does right and wrong. There are some decent heavy parts, ruined by some sour clean parts such as the bridge.
And They Call this Tragedy is another song taken from Alesana's EP release. It's a track that holds up well, with very digestable verse sections (clean and heavy) and a good chorus. Dennis' growls are on point here. The overall pace of the song is a notch below others on the album though; no dance beats here. There is a pretty decent breakdown at the end of the song, complete with adequate buildup, pinch harmonics and low curdling growls. The track concludes with some love 'em or hate 'em screams from Shawn. "You said this would be forever!"
All Night Dance Parties in the Underground Palace made me want to count how many two-step choruses are on this album. Anyways, it's catchy as hell, and this one takes from its title, featuring quite the "danceable" chorus. It's full of good vocal layering and melody. This is definitely one of Shawn's better moments. And although the bridge does sound cheesy the first time around, it at least fits the song this time and doesn't detract from it. There is some decent riffing going on near the end of this one, but nothing we've yet to hear. I would have liked to see this track make its appearance earlier in the tracklisting (switch it with Goodbye, Goodnight for Good), which would enable it to stand out from the earlier catchy tunes.
Endings Without Stories is the last track pulled from Alesana's EP. The verses are screamed by Dennis over some distorted chugging, spiced up with some hot leads. The song structure remains fairly basic; a verse, a series of screams, a bridge, a chorus. But this song features a neat little solo. The solo isn't necessarily the kind you would expect, as it isn't brought to the front of the mix. This is the most we've heard from Dennis since Red and Dying Evening, but he's not quite as good here. There's a couple half-decent drum fills on the track. The conclusion is an eruption of prolonged threatening screams from Dennis: "I love you are meaningless words that slip away as I slit your throat. And I will slit your throat." Overall the EP version seems to be the better choice.
During the process of writing and recording On Frail Wings of Vanity and Wax, Shawn recruited his sister to help record a piano ballad called The Third Temptation of Paris. He does the same thing for this album, bringing Melissa in to record As You Wish. The two ballads sound very similar; the vocal arrangements seem nearly carbon copied at times. Melissa's voice is soaked in production, so it's hard to judge her level of talent. On the lesser flangered parts, she sounds pretty good. After putting aside the fact that this song is dangerously similar to the ballad on Frail Wings.., I can appreciate Shawn's above average vocal performance here. Quite frankly, if you had any sort of natural attraction to The Third Temptation of Paris, you'll probably like this one too.
What can I say about Obsessions is Such an Ugly Word? Well, the intro riff sounds like it was pulled from The Black Parade, but otherwise it's a well written song for the first three minutes. Execution is a different story though. Although vocal parts have been arranged nicely for this one, Shawn is off for alot of the time. The guitar, bass and drums are doing nothing out of the ordinary, but their goal to complement the vocal arrangement has been achieved. The chorus is very listenable but lacks any form of memorableness. Oh, and did I mention the last three minutes is a continuous breakdown? Yeah. Alesana decided they wanted to end the album on an epic note. Or, something like that anyway. For three minutes, All three guitars are chugging on downtuned strings, and all four vocalists are screaming indecipherable lyrics. It's something fun and that will appeal to alot of young listeners or perhaps newcomers to the genre, but after hearing so many bands play "br00tal" breakdowns, it seems wholely unnecessary and almost obnoxious to do it for three consecutive minutes, not to mention it's the last thing you hear before the album stops spinning.
Where Myth Fades to Legend is not a bad album. There are however, bad things about it. The lyrics are poorly written, and song structures are generally the same throughout. There aren't very many memorable riffs, except for maybe the first and fourth tracks. The drummer sounds pretty untested and bored most of the time, but he does his job. So how can someone actually enjoy an album like this you ask? Well, the vocal arrangements are good, choruses are mostly memorable, and tracks are generally heavier (there's no Apology or Pathetic, Ordinary on this disc). Vocally, Shawn is hit or miss per usual, while Dennis and Adam (and Shane on Obsessions..) succeed in spicing up most songs. No one was expecting Alesana to come out with a technical album instrumentally, so it's hard to rag on the guitar work, which is solid enough throughout.
Where Myth Fades to Legend is an album worthy of a try, despite being on basically the same level as On Frail Wings of Vanity and Wax.