Review Summary: This is the most criminally overlooked record of 2011. Coerce’s take on post-hardcore is a perfect refresher.
It’s odd to think I’ve only been listening to Ethereal Surrogate Saviour for seven months. I know every part of the album, but still find myself amazed with every listen. Coerce has immense talent in both the dissonant and harmonious, playing both against each other quite often. In fact, the entire record is immense. Coerce takes everything good from other post-hardcore bands and fuses them with a few progressive leanings to create something every post-hardcore fan needs to hear.
Ethereal Surrogate Saviour starts strong with Equis. A gentle acoustic guitar and soft drums in ¾ time guide into a melancholy horn melody. Then, everything stops. The world takes one long, deep breath. Then, Coerce starts back up again with the addition of a guitar interplay with the trumpet. This song is the perfect start to the album, showcasing many of Coerce’s strongest talents, ranging from beautiful instrumentals playing off one another, to fantastic use of transitions. In case it wasn’t emphasized enough, the pause near the beginning is one of the most amazing musical moments ever created. It’s odd that the lack of sound has this effect, but it serves only to make the entire piece more beautiful as a whole.
Equis transitions flawlessly into Inking Ships, which features an odd time signature and a single-note lead guitar part. Time signature play is something that just about every post-hardcore band has implemented lately, but Coerce manages it without sounding forced or disjointed. Inking Ships is the first song with vocals, and it’s a great first taste of Coerce’s vocal style. The lead vocalist never really screams, but he shouts with a perfect mix of emotion, and his singing voice is comparable to Ian Lenton of fellow Aussie progressive post-hardcore outfit Eleventh He Reaches London
. Coerce’s vocal department is absolutely stellar, and not just because of the lead vocalist. The backup vocals are just as good. Two minutes into Inking Ships, the band singing “we won’t listen” are haunting and set a beautiful mood for the song. The backup vocals are often very sloppy in regards to timing, and this creates an altogether spooky effect. Female vocals are also used in Ash White Smoke, and along with the echoing guitar riff and swelling background, lead into back into the main theme of the song.
A very prevalent complaint about many bands in the scene is that the bass is inaudible or derivative. Ethereal Surrogate Saviour is a very bass-driven record. The bass is the main focus for much of Inking Ships and Prince Welfare, to name two tracks. The bass also occasionally hides behind the rest of the band and just provides a rhythmic force rather than leading the song. The bassist isn’t the most technical in the world, but he is easily one of the most forceful. His assertive push is easily likened to As We Draw
. Even in tracks like the title track, where he just serves as the root of the band, playing the chord progression, his presence is undeniably immense. The drums are also fantastic. The fills in Ash White Smoke come to mind as an example, but the drumming is superb everywhere, seamlessly guiding every transition and time signature change. The beats are dynamic and give emphasis to other instruments perfectly.
The guitar is also fantastic. Implementing delay and reverb with an echoey brilliance in some of the riffs, and bashing out chords in other places, Coerce’s guitar parts are absolutely stellar. Some of the coolest interplay I’ve ever heard is in Dust Dry Mouth, and the outro of that song/intro to Hotel Addiction is also incredibly haunting on multiple levels. Some of the chordal play and riffing in Hotel Addiction exhibits some somewhat basic, but altogether well-used dissonance. Switching back and forth from distortion to clean is a common tactic throughout Ethereal Surrogate Saviour, and the effect it leaves never becomes overused or stale.
Ethereal Surrogate Saviour closes with Five Thousand. Five Thousand almost reaches the seven minute mark, being the longest song on the album, but never gets boring or collapses on itself. The guitar riffing in the first two minutes keeps the intro fresh, and then covers the change in bass play. Coerce not only holds up, but pushes out a wonderfully sonorous closer, and then it’s over. The album is somewhat of a grower, as the sloppy backup vocals and deceptively simple guitar riffs almost signify the compositional efforts of a lesser band. But give Ethereal Surrogate Saviour a few months, and suddenly it will come together.