Review Summary: Even though potential is hinted at in just about every song, the execution of the generic post-hardcore/metalcore template is just too average to let that potential shine.
As with any genre, the popular side of post-hardcore is usually resented by those who can’t stand anything generic; the last thing they want to hear is another chugga-chugga breakdown that rapidly changes octaves with growls following a simple power chord-heavy chorus with whiny clean vocals. But that sounds like metalcore, which has become a popular genre to integrate with post-hardcore the past few years with bands such as Underoath and Chiodos. So really, that sentence describes a slew of bands dabbling in and out of either or both genres. This has in effect made it harder to avoid being generic in this realm of popular music, and North Carolina quintet Akissforjersey attempted to make a name for themselves and stand out with their 2006 debut Keep Your Head Above the Water
, a slightly experimental post-hardcore/metalcore hybrid glistening with talent and potential that’s unfortunately hard to notice due to a very generic sound.
The first thing you’ll notice when you listen to the album is its sub-par production. At the time of this release, the band was signed to the independent label Tragic Hero Records, and I don’t know if it’s because they can’t afford decent recording equipment, but the audio quality here simply isn’t that great. It’s not as bad as say, a good deal of black metal albums, but it’s definitely noticeable. Once you can get past that, you’ll probably notice the talent of vocalist Zach Dawson. This man’s range is pretty impressive; he has a rather pretty higher pitched clean voice he uses the majority of the time, and his throaty yell (for the metalcore parts woooooo) isn’t the most evil sounding one ever, but it’s low and manly enough to make for an effectively dynamic frontman. His lyrics are pretty standard fair for a Christian band that tries to walk the line between being subtle with their message and blatant with it, but every once in awhile he’s got a cute line. Take for example this one in “Father Part the Clouds in the Sky”: If jealousy was a knife, we’d all be dead
. The good news is he isn’t the only talented member; the drummer shines on most of the songs. He lays down some impressive off-beat rhythms, throws in cool fills and knows when to double bass the *** out of his kit, and it’s not always during a breakdown! The bad news is the other three members, the guitarists and the bassist, never stray from ultra generic chord progression and that “train” sound abused in breakdowns (“chugga chugga” for the low fret strumming and “woo woo” for the dissonant octave changes). The bass is never heard, and when you combine all these ingredients, you have a recipe for generic post-hardcore/metalcore. There are still signs that the band has potential however.
The songwriting, for example, stays away from intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structures, which is a relief, because if it wasn’t for that, the songs really wouldn’t have anything to keep them interesting. In a nutshell, the formula for a song on Keep Your Head Above the Water
includes some clean vocals, clean guitar strumming, solid to great drumming, some harsh vocals thrown in, a breakdown or two and slim to none bass, in no particular order. Earlier I stated that if you’re a band that’s part of the post-hardcore/metalcore marriage, it has become harder and harder to avoid being generic, and it’s pretty obvious that this band tries. While their music is generic and somewhat predictable, it’s also enjoyable because of the good vocals, especially the cleans, the solid drumming and the refusal of the songs to have the same structure as each other.
So, is this band worth your time? Well, they don’t really stand out from the other popular post-hardcore and metalcore bands dominating the scene today, but this is definitely an album that shows potential. I want to give it a “good” rating, but I really don’t think that the hints of potential presented here are enough to bring it above average. The musicianship of half the band is good, and the songwriting is usually on a good level, but the sound is generic, and the songs themselves end up being somewhat predictable despite the relatively smart songwriting. It’s a shame the band didn’t progress with their newest album; it’s more of the same with better production, so the gleams of talent and potential shown here are just that.