Review Summary: Alexisonfire try to take a step forward with a new sound, but end up taking two steps back.
I've always considered Alexisonfire one of the "better bands" in the whole present-day "post-hardcore." However, their last album, Crisis received a lot of mixed reactions among fans with a lot of them believing that the band had lost their fire and were aiming for a more "commercially appealing" album. While that may be true in some instances, Crisis was a great maturation for the band and it showed singer/guitarist Dallas Green at his best vocally. However, front man George Pettit's role as the "lead vocalist" of the band was decreased majorly, and how his screams contrast with Dallas' singing was always one of Alexisonfire's best assets. For their fourth studio album, Old Crows/Young Cardinals, Pettit's role as the band's "lead singer" has returned, only in a very different form.
The thing that sticks out like a sore thumb when you first put on this record is that Pettit's vocal delivery has changed. His screaming style of old has been replaced with a new aggressive, throaty style of singing for the most part, but there are a few spots where he screams. This new singing style may not sit well with older fans, but it does work well for him. Although it's not like most fans were probably expecting, his voice fits well with the music and gives it a fresh new feel. The other voice of Alexisonfire, Dallas Green, nearly steals the show on Old Crows/Young Cardinals, sounding better than ever. I've always been a fan of his voice and his acoustic side project, City and Colour, and I feel that his voice has gotten better and better with each Alexisonfire album, this one being no exception. Green and Pettit complement each other well and there is a lot more balance between the two on Old Crows/Young Cardinals than there was on Crisis. The track "Midnight Regulations" is probably the best example of how the duo trade off vocals so well.
As a whole, the band seems to be improving as well, sounding a lot more coherent as a band. Drummer Jordan Hastings also really stepped up his game on this record as he sounds very sharp on this record. Hastings' drumming is what really drives a lot of the songs on Old Crows/Young Cardinals, and it is better than it ever has been before. Guitarists Wade MacNeil and Dallas Green sound very tight as the former delivers a lot of catchy leads ("Accept Crime") and the latter provides many great hooks that are the driving force on most songs ("Young Cardinals," "Emerald Street"). The only thing that's really missing is the dueling guitar melodies that were previously a key factor to their sound. McNeil does have a few leads, but he and Green hardly trade off melodies anymore and Green's instrumental role in the band has been limited to rhythm guitar. Alexisonfire are obviously trying to distance themselves from their previous "post-hardcore" sound and the dueling guitars sadly had to go. However, there are a lot of good things that come with this new sound of theirs. They sound a lot more aggressive and focused than ever before as they explore new territory with songs like "Old Crows," or the mellower track, "The Northern."
Alexisonfire have always been a fairly catchy band and this record has its share of sing-along choruses and lines that'll be stuck in your head for ages ("Heading for the Sun"), but what's strange is that despite this, Old Crows/Young Cardinals is a very dark sounding record. Whether it's the cold opener, "Old Crows" or the somber closer "Burial," the whole record carries a slightly grim vibe to it. "The Northern" is an eerie track that's somewhat reminiscent of "You Burn First" from Crisis, only actually done well and it flows perfectly at the album's midpoint. The song that follows it, "Midnight Regulations" is Alexisonfire at their absolute best. Combining post-hardcore with hard rock influences and having one of Green's best vocal performances. "Burial" sounds like a Thrice b-side from Vheissu with its atmospheric touch and Green's soothing vocals echoing as the record comes to the close.
George Pettit had stated in an interview that he wanted to be the one to "put the knife" into screamo rather than saving it. Genre disputes aside, Alexisonfire have definitely moved on from their earlier sound. Old Crows/Young Cardinals is like nothing they've ever done before and one could argue that it's just as good (if not better) than their previous outings. Older fans will obviously not embrace this change of sound immediately but they will warm up to it eventually. Sometimes change is a good thing.