Review Summary: Chiodos, to everyone’s surprise, proved their name isn’t just a synonym for “Craig Owens”.
Let’s break Chiodos down for a second. They’ve attempted on every album to define their sound, but it never seemed quite right. On prior albums, Craig’s role in the band required everyone else to take a back seat because he was their selling point. All’s Well That Ends Well showed us that they enjoyed post-hardcore elements, but they only knew how to orchestrate them (mostly) in D Minor. On Bone Palace Ballet, a little confidence was lost in thinking that they couldn’t make music without the help of string samples and overdubs. On Illuminaudio, for the first time in the band’s career, there is actually a balance.
The album’s intro starts off clearly as a reflection of the state of the band; depicting an ethereal, spacious environment with slight discomfort and uncertainty. At the same time, it inspires curiosity to ensure the listener that there’s a glimmer of hope for the band, and hinting at where they’re going. Diving into the new sound, replacement singer Brandon Bolmer, who is everyone’s greatest hope/fear for this band, gives us a few confident “la”s to lead us into a heavy track. Everyone’s ears are perked, knowing that in 30 seconds we’re either going to hit stop and say “ha, I told you so” or dare to venture on, hoping that there is indeed something to be offered from a Craigless Chiodos.
With both more hardcore parts and classically influenced parts to add some needed flavor, the first real opening track is a success for the entire band. Brandon Bolmer stepped up to the plate and embraced the fact that, for most Chiodos fans, he had some major shoes to fill. The melodies are strong, the chops are evident, and the screams? Well, Craig was really no comparison there. New drummer Tanner Wayne’s role is also clearly defined from the get-go, with more double bass and heavier sounding parts. While the band could have probably made this album with ex-drummer Derrick Frost, his style is certainly welcome throughout the album, adding favorably intelligent rhythmic phrases behind Jason Hale and Bradley Bell’s melodies. At about 1:45 in “Caves”, we get kicked in the gut by a taste of his influence: a stimulating bit of “chuggage”. This can seem to be an oxymoron, since chugging has made its way into almost every “heavy” band out there, but had yet to find its place in a Chiodos album. I’m just glad to say it didn’t ruin their sound, or make us all sick to our stomach, which would be pretty easy since we’re all borderline allergic to breakdowns these days.
Overall, the album has a big-ness to it without feeling too bloated. It’s clear Bell and Hale have found a common workspace, feeding off of each other’s styles in order to aid in a solid, cohesive sound. On past albums, they sometimes fought for the front seat, with Bell often taking the rear and letting Hale’s drier, blander parts lead the album. Kudos to you, Chiodos, for realizing that neither Bell nor Hale can be the star for this band to work. Before I get ahead of myself, I will admit there are parts on here where I’m tempted to believe Craig came in and did guest vocals. But let’s face it. How many times has a band replaced a singer who defined their band and not had the new one sounding like a bad rip off of the original? Here, Bolmer allows himself and the audience to come to terms with the fact that he is replacing Craig in this band, but is showing us his own timbre and stylistic takes. So, we’ll allow him a certain amount of “Craig parts” in a given song, right?
Production-wise, there are plenty of effects and auxillary sounds, proving that this is still 2010 and bands are going to use technology rather than go for a raw approach. However, the drum sound, which I find is often a basis for how the album should sound and how everything ends up meshing in the final mix, retains enough of the original drums to provide us with a comfortable vibe. At times, though, it does seem that Bolmer’s voice is a little too “big”. While on the subject of Bolmer, I’ll confess he does have a weak point: lyrics. The lack of choral “themes” pulls the album back slightly. His lyrics, in comparison with Craig’s, lack hooks and are somewhat bland. Some bands can get by with this, but only when another member of the band carries the weight. Here, they’re shining the light on Bolmer, but he doesn’t always have something to say. About mid way through, he starts to come around, with “His Story Repeats Itself” and a few of the following tracks providing us with a little bit of a lyrical anchor.
Musically, the songs in the middle of the album are great. We get to see the largest amount of exploration here. Dynamic sections; dark, mid-tempo vibes reflecting those of old Muse songs; and poppy progressive parts help propel the album forward. The aforementioned improvement in lyrical catchiness adds to this portion of the album as well. In the abdomen of the album, Chiodos incorporate explorative elements into their sound without making asses of themselves, which breathes life into both the band and listener, and prevents the album from becoming stale. The songs can lean a little more on the choruses, with emotive passages like “This war will tear apart the sky” painted over a classical piano tone with a tight, driving rhythm supporting it. The chorus of “Let Us Burn One” is similarly driven, but with an airy, breakdown vibe, bringing out attitude-filled bitterness portrayed in the lyrics.
Tying up the end of the album, the songs still come off strong, re-iterating the overall sound. By the time I get to the tenth song on almost any album, unless it’s a band with exceptional dynamic variation, I get a little tired. It’s hard to expect a band in this genre to present eleven or twelve high decibel songs that are all outstanding. With this being said, I’m glad to see “Those Who Slay Together, Stay Together” was included in this portion of the album. I was hoping upon first listen that it wouldn’t be one of the strongest tracks, and I’m pleased to say it’s far from it, and still a pretty decent song. Bell in particular shines here with his high-register arpeggios leading in and providing a rolling, dancing orchestral landscape. All of the songs in the rear of the album would be much more impressive on their own, but in context, attention spans start to wane by this point. However, the quality of these songs in comparison with the rest of the album leaves us with a sense of accomplishment and confidence in a band most of us seriously doubted and were ready to give up on.
This is an interesting time in heavy music. The “scene” is SO densely populated with formulaic, almost talentless bands who seem to think that the more ridiculous synth breakdowns, chug patterns, and layered screams you put in a song, the better the song. From what I can tell, all this has yielded is a heap of over-produced junk. That being the case, when an album like this comes around, it’s well respected. I’m not saying that Chiodos are astounding musicians that are going to change the face of music. However, they did manage to produce an album full of fun, sustainable, and somewhat complex songs.
A lot can change in 30 seconds. It’s more than enough time for a life to be flipped on its head, and certainly enough time to decide the fate of a band with everything to prove. Well congratulations, Chiodos; on first impression, you validated your continued existence. You may not have proven everything and secured a long-time foothold in the music world, but you proved, to everyone’s surprise, that your name isn’t just a synonym for “Craig Owens”. Here’s to a great 2010 release and a hopeful future for your band.