Review Summary: Get your hands on it as soon as you can because too few people know about this gem of a grindcore release.
From A Second Story Window are somewhat of an anomaly to me. Their first album, “Not One Word Has Been Omitted,” is fairly strict and linear in its grindcore approach. Many find this album to be a sort of grind classic, but I can be easily annoyed by the somewhat sludgy production and scratchy, under-developed vocals. Their newest album, “Conversations,” is definitely satisfying on some levels with a very slick production and some catchy song writing, but it ventures too far down the path of screamo song structures to have any substantial shelf life. However, what makes FASSW so intriguing for me is their middle album, “Delenda,” for it is exactly that: the middle album. It is the bridge between the grind freight train of “Not One Word” and the overly melodic “Conversations,” and this bridge is where FASSW found something remarkable.
Delenda boasts one of the more aurally appealing and enticing intros to an album I have yet to hear with its first track, “Acknowledgement.” Rather than bludgeoning the listener with an explosive assault on the senses to catch attention, Delenda chooses to intrigue and mesmerize with tuned percussion faintly and gracefully trickling into an ominous atmosphere. These first moments do a surprisingly effective job of setting the tone for the entire album; subtle, rich and unsettling yet undeniably beautiful. A melodic piano line drops in and builds up through a crescendo of dissonantly layered reverb and delay-laden effects. The effects overtake the music and all is noise for a single moment.
“Soft Green Fields” rips through the mounted tension of “Acknowledgement,” with the attitude of a buzz saw. This track is admittedly kind of a mess, but a good deal of fun is found in FASSW hurling everything they have to offer at you all at once. A few things are immediately noticed, primarily the crystal clear production. The sheer magnitude of dynamic energy that is audibly captured on this album is impressive to say the least, and it never feels light or tinny. The next thing to notice is a ridiculous case of musical schizophrenia, and this track displays that more than any other on the album. I’m not referring to genre and mood hopping so much as the reality of a new riff coming at you literally every ten seconds. If the whole album featured this kind of madness to the degree that “Soft Green Fields” does, I would throw myself off a building, but luckily FASSW treat this track as more of an initiation for the listener as if to say, “If you can handle this, you’re good to go.” The whole thing sort of blind-sides you, making it difficult to digest, but as the album continues, many of its nuances can be quickly appreciated.
The most striking element of FASSW’s sound is the band’s uncanny ability to gracefully weave powerful melodic gestures throughout most of its movements. For being such a grindy, often times brutal album, Delenda is not as sharp as it is flowing. The guitar work is not composed of standard grind/metalcore riffing and noodling, with angular syncopation and dense technicality. It’s actually rather lush, even in the heavy sections, thanks to the guitarists opting for more open, chord-based playing. Everything is more massive, dissonant and rich sounding than what can be heard on most grind albums. The melodies sometimes overtake the brutality altogether, making for a very enjoyable, uplifting crescendo of layered chords and dual-guitar dynamics. Some songs dwell a little more on the melodies than others, but Delenda is largely an even playing field between lighter musicality and sheer chaos.
The guitar work definitely helps the album attain levels of crushing heaviness that are not often reached, but the vocal and drum performances are what contribute the most to Delenda’s brutality. The vocals are pretty incredible and rather intimidating, with maniacal shrieks and screams ranging down to exceptionally clean, guttural lows. The tone of the vocals is very unique as well, having almost a Jacob Bannon feel at times, and there are a few spots of cleans that are perfectly effective but not outstanding. The drummer is really quite phenomenal, exhibiting more intelligence and creativity than just unbridled speed. His work in the album’s quieter moments is the most interesting, while his work in heavier moments is the most effective. He also employs blast beats and pummeling double bass runs with a degree of tastefulness and thought that I greatly appreciate. This is a wonderfully executed album from all fronts of musicianship and engineering.
My personal rating for Delenda is a 5, but this rating definitely possesses a sentimental bent, so I post this review as a 4.5 because the album is not perfect. “Ghosts Over Japan” is a beautiful piano-driven ballad, but it undeniably falls a little flat when juxtaposed with the heaving monster that is the rest of Delenda, and “Soft Green Fields” is definitely the weakest of the heavy tracks due to its completely unglued nature. However, my personal 5 rating is due to the fact that this album hits a dynamic flow and movement that I have yet to experience from any other work. Granted, other works offer different things and hit in different places, but the connection that I am locked into while listening to Delenda is something entirely special. I’ve talked about movement a lot because this stuff breathes and leaps and stomps more tangibly than anything I have yet to hear. Get your hands on it as soon as you can because too few people know about this gem of a grindcore release.