Review Summary: Congratulations Jimmy Ryan. One of the best post-metal releases of the year.
I’m sure it’s safe to say that Haste the Day made a noticeable dent in the contemporary metalcore scene. Hell I thought their debut EP “That They May Know You” and their debut Solid State full-length “Burning Bridges” were actually pretty good. And of course, the Haste to Day loyalists always praised founding member and frontman Jimmy Ryan, who was indeed talented with his ever-so-fierce screaming. Then, the band followed their LP debut with “When Everything Falls” which I have to say was rather disappointing. But it probably didn’t disappoint the fans as much as Ryan’s departure soon thereafter. But in the ensuing days, Haste the Day would continue prevailing, replacing Ryan with Stephen Keech, and releasing a rather mediocre “Pressure the Hinges.” Concurrently, Ryan would become married and uphold a position at Tooth & Nail, but most importantly, start a new band called Trenches.
Trenches is indeed a different approach for anything that has to do with Haste the Day. In fact, it is inappropriate for me to continue mentioning Haste the Day because of this very new direction that Trenches embarks on. My awe-stricken surprise has yet to cease. Ryan navigates towards a more atmospheric and experimental direction, more or less in the vein of post-metal powerhouses Neurosis and ISIS. But I couldn’t limit it to such categorization. There are so many different elements going on that Trenches creates a sound of its own. “Calling” hits you immediately with Ryan’s familiar Zao-esque vocals tearing through the heavy instrumentation. Then it quickly holds back and a single somber tune leaves Ryan’s voice echoing through your speakers. Soon enough, you’ll hear some nice hollow gang vocals that lead into a choir-like singing. The song continues into the end where a piano plays slow notes to a steadfast distorted drumbeat. Though nowhere near the best track on the album, this introduction alone gives you all you need to know about Trenches.
I must reiterate how powerful the vocals are on this record. The slow but driving feel of the songs exponentially increases the force behind Ryan’s screams. But the shrill screams we’re all used to hearing are not the only aural onslaughts that Ryan delivers. He executes some low gutturals as well as mid-ranged yelling very well. Additionally, guitarist Joel Lauver delivers some gratifying accompaniment to the vocals, taking over the crooning singing and whiny talking/yelling. Also, the whole band has some nice moments occasionally engaging in gang vocals as well. The overall vocal package is very powerful and pleasantly varied (the resemblance of the intro vocals to “Call It Correct” is uncannily similar to an undistorted Brent Hinds of Mastodon).
Anyways, as you continue to the halfway point, you run into “Pathways,” one of the major standouts. It starts with a beautiful riff under Phil Hook’s beats that dynamically escalates without vocals for nearly half the track…but it’s so well executed you don’t even realize that two and a half minutes had already passed. But soon enough, Ryan enters with staccato screams that become perplexingly catchy. Then Lauver enters with his moment to shine, delivering a beautiful singing hook, sonically light but incredibly soaring that leads to the outro.
The following track “Bittersweet” begins again with merciful vocals which will remain predominant throughout the track. But here is a shining example of how meticulously layered and multifaceted the music is. You have the light vocals over two ranges of guitar: the first fingerpicks a toned light melody while the other plays a heavy chugging riff…both are nevertheless equally driving, providing much of the energy. Things eventually slow down to yet another example of the multi-leveled musicality. Everything stops except for a single piano, playing a gentle tune, which soon is accompanied by organ chords. Then the bass plays a catchy riff and the drums play a simple beat. The amalgam is soon wrapped with the reentrance of the vocals and guitars, leading into a majorly epic conclusion. It’s moments like these where a “noise-cancellation earphone required” disclaimer is absolutely necessary.
Indubitably such an album would have to have a staggering majestic ending. Don’t worry, Trenches delivers with the thirteen minute closer “Cornered,” a title apropos to how you will feel upon listening to it. The majority of the track isn’t the standard “big crescendo to finish” closer you would expect. The first eight minutes continues the instrumental experimentation until a long ambient ending commences. It’s almost like the band is giving you this spacey outro to ponder all that has happened within the last fifty minutes. This might be disappointing to some, but I think it works well. It’s a different and unfamiliar path for a band that is obviously trying things differently. At least they succeeded in evading your expectations.
I think Jimmy Ryan has found the perfect niche for the overcrowding metal genre, and he has taken a sledgehammer to it. The expert technicality lies not in persistent complexity, but in versatile multiformity and of course, unrestrained emotional effusion. You have the gritty hooks of Mastodon, combined with the layers of Mouth of the Architect, and the force of ISIS, complete with the grandiosity of all three. But what’s the point of these comparisons? This is something genuinely refreshing. A major surprise for a new Solid State release, and definitely something to check out.