Review Summary: Intelligent and abrasive, but never pretentious or obnoxious, We Are the Romans shatters the earth, then leaves without a trace, leaving the listener wondering how metalcore can be so crushing, and at the same time be so subtle and soft-spoken.
There must’ve been something in the air during the recording of We Are the Romans.
All of the album’s patterns that seem like they needed to be meticulously worked out, all of the perfectly achieved atmospheres and crushing walls of sound, seem to pass by too nonchalantly to suggest that the band slaved over them to the point of frustration. The numerous transformations and subtle nuances each song contains are executed much too smoothly for the listener to infer that anger, not musically constructive anger, but real, frustrated anger, was poured onto the instruments that recorded this masterpiece. The album is soft-spoken, in both its well-written and intriguingly subtle lyrics, and in the punishing, technical, and at times trance-inducing metalcore madness that makes up its music. The album is intelligent, but never pretentious. It’s abrasive, but never obnoxious. And the way it pounds, strolls, and utterly annihilates its way through its clouds of dissonance and distortion is so puzzlingly perfect, it almost makes the album seem otherworldly.
The album is not overproduced, overworked, or overdone. Every single riff on the album sounds completely organic; each riff is either a variation of the riff that came before it, or something completely different, but either way, it always fits perfectly. Some songs end in a completely different spot than where they started, and some don’t. But the band picked the right structures for the right songs, because not only every song, but every riff, pattern, and harmony, flows flawlessly. From the insanity of opener “To Our Friends In the Great White North,” to the final strums of closer “Man the Ramparts,” the listener is never left wondering where one riff or passage came from, like in “C. Thomas Howell as the ‘Soul Man‘,” where the main verse riff is brilliantly interrupted by a guitar-only passage consisting of repeated eerie, high notes. After a few seconds of this, the rest of the band members come in, and the guitar keeps playing the high notes, just more of them, and in a different pattern. The song then keeps going with this pattern, until it eventually slows down exactly when the song calls for it. The song then goes out with a bang, riding out on a huge, epic chord pattern, backed up by frantic drum fills, all letting the listener know that the song is soon going to crash and burn, in the best way possible.
“Transitions From Persona To Object” is another great representation of the album’s organic nature. Every riff in this song feels completely natural, not forced, or even placed,
in the slightest. They feel so
natural, that at times it almost seems like the riffs themselves are coming up with the riffs. Beginning with its bewilderingly eerie intro melody, the song comes up with awesome riff after awesome riff, all grooved perfectly to fit the mood that part of the song calls for. All of the heavy riffs that come after the intro eventually lead to a high, dissonant passage, into which the low, heavy riffs and the vocals make their way back. The song then ends with some frantic, discordant noodling that fades out and leaves a few seconds with only the listener and a drum beat.
But not only are all the riffs, tones, melodies, and atmospheres perfectly placed, the sounds themselves are incredible. The riffs that begin the passage around the 2-minute mark in “To Our Friends In the Great White North” are some of the most epic in the entire genre of metalcore, along with the gigantic, soaring chords that lead “Man the Ramparts” through its duration. “Man the Ramparts” also features a passage in which a choir bellows the line “we are the Romans” in a rather grandiose fashion, and then is overtaken by another devastating riff accompanied by the ferocity of all the other musicians. This passage ends the album on a heavy, epic, and yet again, perfect note.
Along with the atmospheres and sounds created by the grandiose outro of “Man the Ramparts,“ and the walls of dissonance in songs like “To Our Friends In the Great White North” and “Transitions From Persona To Object,“ they’re also created by simple, but ominous and trance-inducing guitar leads, like in “Swimming the Channel Vs. Driving the Chunnel.” Due to the frighteningly ominous guitar lead, and all of its subtle build-ups and hints at something bigger to come, this song is probably one of the eeriest songs I’ve ever heard. Nearly the whole song consists of that same guitar melody and variations of it, and it’s accompanied by spoken-word vocals, which definitely only add to the eeriness. When the vocals stop, and the guitar melody keeps playing until the drums eventually fade out, the song is so timid and reserved it could validly be considered “ambient.” All of these organic variations in sounds, among many other examples, like the jazzy passage in “Mondrian Was A Liar” or the vocal trade-offs in “I Wanna Be A Sex Symbol On My Own Terms,” make it so the album never gets stale, and is nearly impossible not to enjoy, or be intrigued by, at the very least.
So yes, the seemingly effortless music of We Are the Romans
is definitely a large contributor to the album seeming like it just walks in the listener’s ears, destroys them, and leaves without a trace. But the smart, subtle, and beautifully unpretentious lyrics are a large contributor as well. They address themes that were relevant at the time of this album’s recording, and are still relevant now, like bands arrogantly preaching to their fans, and purposely giving them all they want in order to get more of them, like in “C. Thomas Howell as the ‘Soul Man’:”
The worst music I’ve ever heard,
Honesty that touches a nerve
The words fall onto the floor,
Drive home with no lessons learned
Some of the lyrics also consist of simple, ambiguous angst, angst that slides in next to the crushing and powerful music perfectly, like in “Frequency Ass Bandit:”
Anchored awake, wringing my hands
Weighing my time, running down dreams
Buying your life,
Patience is a girl I’ve been trying to forget about
Every line corresponds with the music that backs it up perfectly, and all the words are delivered with a passionate, unrelenting combination of a hardcore-esque yell and a nasty growl. The intelligence and honesty of the lyrics, and the vehemence they’re delivered with, provide a nice balance with the otherworldliness of the music. Because they deal with human themes that many people can relate to or find relatable themes in, they let you know that this album was indeed made by flawed human beings just like you and me, no matter how unbelievable the music makes that sound.
We Are the Romans
is like a firework; once its fuse is lit, it erupts and lights up everything around you with its vibrant colors, and crushes your ears with the loud, pulverizing force with which the colors are launched out of it. During its duration, it seems to be the only thing happening in your world, and then…it’s over. The album never begs for attention, it simply does what it sets out to do so well that the listener can’t not
give it their attention. And when it finally comes to a close, they’ll be wondering what the hell just happened.