Review Summary: "We are not the kids we used to be, stop wishing for yesterday!"
Alexisonfire, as a band have always been a tiny bit awkward. In fact, you could compare their career to the stages of puberty. They had their loud, shouty phase, (self titled) their moody, volatile stage (Watch Out!) and their angry but righteous stage (Crisis). Now, they have come out the other side as a fully fledged rock band but the question is, was that change for better or for worse?
As soon as you hear the opening bass riff of “Old Crows”, you know you are in for something a little different than from the other albums. Progressing further into the song, you can hear lots of the elements of “old” Alexis, yet it feels decidedly different. The beat is more driving, the bass more prominent, and of course, George’s vocals are vastly different. This song feels like more of a statement than any other on the album, with the lyric: “We are not the kids we used to be, stop wishing for yesterday.” The band are trying in earnest to show us that they have changed, and in that case they have succeeded.
Delving further into the album, you start to pick up on subtle differences as well as the glaring changes, such as the stripped down guitar work, and Dallas’ more aggressive vocal style, but oddly, they don’t really seem to fit. Songs like “Young Cardinals” and “No Rest” all have chunky power-chord sections and lengthy drum fills, but one always seems to long for the intricate guitar lines and changes in dynamics that the “old” Alexis used to have. However, for a new listener, many of the changes will be positive because they make the band instantly accessible to a wider audience than ever before. The choruses are even more catchy, and there is little that would prove divisive with most.
Instrumentally, this is both a progression and a backwards step for the band. The rhythm section is tighter than ever before, but in a different way. They get into a groove, and never deviate from it, so while they are lacking the start-stop dynamics of before, the songs are more driving and forceful. (See “Sons of Privilege” and “Born and Raised”) The bass has been mixed higher than usual, but unfortunately does nothing of real interest, which is disappointing, as it would have been an ample opportunity for Steele to really show off his talents. The guitars are more orientated to the groove format, with the occasional solo on top, which works well, but gets very repetitive as a formula. Songs like “Born and Raised” and “Accept Crime” are prime examples of this coming off well, because they get into a solid groove and one of the guitarists (most likely Dallas) plays a lovely little lick on top. In fact, their whole sound reminds one of classic punk/hard rock acts more than the bands that they are usually associated with, especially on the song “The Northern”. It reminds one of an almost mournful spiritual song, in the refrain “Would you go to heaven?” and with it’s themes on religion and death. It is a brilliant twist on their old sound, and one that in my opinion they should pursue regularly.
Vocally, as I previously mentioned, there has been a massive overhaul in their sound: George doesn’t scream on every song. Instead, he does a kind of gruff, singy, shouty voice akin to Liam Cormier in the Cancer Bats. This is a very hit and miss vocal styles, because on some songs, he just sounds plain annoying, (“Midnight Regulations”) but on others he adds real depth and grit to the band. (“Sons of Privilege”) Many will be put off by this transformed vocal style, but it grows on you, when it is given time. Dallas and Wade have pretty much the same interplay that they have always had, though Dallas has gotten much more aggressive in his style, and it actually suits him rather well.
This album is one of the best the band has ever done on the lyrical front. They use beautiful metaphors touching on genuine pressing topics like on “Accept Crime”. (“There’s no police between two beating hearts.”) They are more politically inclined than ever, and this again works well, because it follows the pattern of loud, fast rock. They never sound preachy though, which is where most bands fall down in that territory.
Overall, this album is the epitome of a mixed bag. Some of the songs are the catchiest, most intelligent songs the band has ever done, but others drag making the album seem repetitive and boring. The band still hasn’t truly found their identity yet, so the album seems less cohesive than previous outings, but they still deliver so many of the traits that we know and love. Fans of the band’s earlier albums may be disappointed with this album, with it’s lack of crazy dynamics and intricate guitar lines, or moody and introspective exploration, but newer fans will love the catchiness and driving force this album provides. So, they may have changed for better and for worse, but for all their faults, they are still Alexisonfire: lovable, enigmatic, unique.
Great fucking review; perfectly describes this album.
This album is very good. It's a big change from AOF's old stuff, and I don't mind change. If the band is good, then change usually isn't a big deal for me. I have nothing wrong with a band changing their sound, but this time around, the change seems much too radical, that's why this album is such a difficult listen at first and will take multiple listens to fully appreciate and enjoy, if you're a big fan of their previous works, which I am. Instead of what generally goes on with bands, where they progress their sound and go through the motions over a few albums, the change from Crisis to this album was a huge, radical change. I can appreciate that, and it makes it fresh and great to listen to, but it's also a hindrance. It's not that I want this album to sound like something we've already heard from Alexisonfire, but nothing on this album stands out or jumps out at the listener upon the first listen or 2 of the record, where as the previous 3 albums had many tracks that did this (except Accept Crime, which I was immediately hooked on). The album sounds so bad because we've never heard Alexisonfire like this before, but yet at the same time, it's so good for the exact same reason. Upon first listen of Young Cardinals, all I could think was, "AOF, what the fuck are you doing?" This album will take a few listens for a lot of people..they'll need to give it time to really settle in, and then soon enough, they'll be enjoying this album as much as the others in no time...I already am. Besides, I always find that the "better" albums are the ones that take time and multiple listens to really understand and get into. Although, at the same time, there's not much to "get" and understand with this album, because it is without a doubt their simplest and easiest material to latch onto, in terms of how their overall sound is now. I'd say this is the album to start with if you want to get into AOF but couldn't with their older material. If you're a big fan like I am, this album won't settle in right away. The overall formula of writing on this album is fairly repetetive and the same, but it's not a bad thing at all. Alexisonfire know how to write songs, and that sure hasn't changed on this album. And now I say again, Accept Crime fucking pwns. Great record, great review.
Ha, sorry Waior. You snooze, you lose! But yeah, the album does get a bit frustrating. "The Northern" is like my new favourite Alexis song, i'm pretty sure. It even beats "Counterparts and Number Them".