Review Summary: Losing Craig Owens, who was both a strength and a weakness, enabled Chiodos to progress their sound and to release one of the top albums in the post-hardcore genre this year.
The lineup changes Chiodos has undergone in the past year have been very well documented, so I will avoid the cliché opening paragraph talking about the band moving on after the loss of Craig Owens and Derrick Frost and get right down to it. This approach fits Illuminaudio
well because the band didn’t pull any punches or beat around the bush whatsoever. Opening tracks “Illuminaudio” and “Caves” are the band’s way of saying ‘Yeah, we may have lost the face of our band, but by no means are we going to miss a step.’ On Illuminaudio
, Chiodos does just that, pulling off one of the biggest suprises of the year.
The aforementioned title track is a perfect segue into the album. It uses a good bit of technology to create an atmosphere best described as dark and brooding, but also strangely optimistic. New lead vocalist Brandon Bolmer immediately shows his ability to use different styles as he and the band go from sounding like an emo, technology induced Christofer Ingle to Roger Waters yelling over a wall of sound a la Pink Floyd in The Wall
. “Illuminaudio” is simply an introduction, a friendly hello from the band until all hell breaks loose.
Second track, “Caves” is not quite as polite as “Illuminaudio” was; in fact, it’s nothing but an uppercut square in the jaw. The listener is immediately taken aback by Tanner Wayne pounding on his drums. About a half minute in, the song turns even heavier, as all instruments get in on the action. “Caves” features the first of many ridiculously catchy choruses from the band.
Five minutes into the album, I was utterly shocked at how unbelievably tight it sounded. This condition was continued by the sparkling opening verse and tasty but rather long chorus in “Love Is a Cat from Hell”. The first minute of this track is great, but the rest of it feels like a repeat of the first minute, bringing the quality of the song down a bit. Despite being one of the tracks the band released early, “Modern Wolf Hair” is not high on my list of the songs on this album, but that’s not to say it is not a good song.
“Notes in Constellations” is rather overlooked in my mind, although it is my favorite song on Illuminaudio
. It starts off with a soft and slow verse sung beautifully by Bolmer before building up to the best chorus on the album. Bolmer soars to deliver the simple, yet heartfelt lyrics that are found throughout.
‘And we dance around just like constellations.
You keep my body warm.
And we dance around just like constellations.
You're keeping me awake at night.
You make my body warm.’
At this point, the catchy, hook-riddled choruses were far from over. “Scaremonger” presents yet another gem of a listen. It transitions between furious verse to fast, but more in control chorus several times, and also throws in a couple superb bridges for good measure. This track is one of the strongest from Wayne, as he shows his ability to add monstrous fills and pound trough decently technical beats at a frenetic pace.
Another highlight for Illuminaudio
has to be the work of Bradley Bell. Bell goes far beyond the typical duties of a keyboardist in the post-hardcore genre, adding effective keyboard notes at the right time and using the synth and other devices wonderfully to not only add to the mood, but to absolutely put it over the top. Throughout “Let Us Burn One”, he pitches in some fantastic work on the keys and piles on to the mayhem that the rest of the band was unleashing.
has so many strong moments it’s almost incomprehensible. “Stratovolcano Mouth” is one of the pleasurable kicks in the teeth scattered throughout the album. “Those Who Slay Together, Stay Together” is an epic song with an untamable monster of a chorus. Even the title of “Closed Eyes Still Look Forward” lets the listener know the view and direction of the band. It is a slowdown of a track, but a great way to end the album. The lyrical content, as in most of the album, focuses on navigating through life’s different tests and trials, and becoming a better person from experiencing them. The general thought from those who have listened to Bolmer’s lyrics is that the they are a step down from Craig’s and are a weakness due to their relative simplicity. Are they a step down from Craig’s? Probably, but it was hard not to and I honestly do not see them as weak at all; I see them as meaningful and uplifting, which are certainly positive adjectives when talking about lyrics.
The stringed instruments never really stole the show at all, but in the same respect, they never became a downfall either. The guitars are never overly technical, but they are certainly good enough in that they are solidly above-average throughout. The balance the band displays is one of the most appealing attributes of this album. Chiodos’ sound used to revolve around the singing of Craig Owens and either a breakdown (see All’s Well That Ends Well
) or a goofy sound sample or synth effect (Bone Palace Ballet
). A look at the song titles reveals that Chiodos still haven’t grown out of naming their tracks after stupid puns or sayings, but they have certainly grown musically. Song structures and tempo are extremely dynamic, and the band has moved past the vices that previously proved to be their downfall. Looking at this album as a whole, its strengths are noticeable almost constantly, while its weaknesses are rare and minor.
Pros: excellent choruses, an expertly developed atmosphere, top-notch vocals, and some of the catchiest music you will ever hear
Cons: if you grasp at straws, you could say the somewhat lack of technicality on the part of the stringed instruments and a couple songs sound faintly similar
“Notes in Constellations”
“Let Us Burn One”
“Those Who Slay Together, Stay Together”