Review Summary: Talent begins to find direction.
The release of this album has at the very least solidified one thing; this band doesn't deserve half of the crap they have thrown at them. Yes, their first album was awful. Yes, 'Thank You, Pain' is a terrible song, but if you judge an entire band on one crappy single then you need to open your mind a little.
Prisoners is an incredibly solid album throughout. Everyone in the band (and I mean EVERYONE) has upped their game on this release. The drumming is tight and interesting, holding songs together even at their most wild and frantic moments. New guitarist Paco provides a new element to the band's music; technical shredding, solos and harmonic leads over Danny Marino's natural climbing riffs. Hell, the bass is at least slightly more audible than on the last album.
And then, of course, we reach Alissa. The band's attractive frontwoman and vocal powerhouse shines as ever here. Her growls are evil sounding and diverse, but more importantly Prisoners goes on to show that Alissa can really sing. Her hit and miss cleans almost ruined the last album, so I was both apprehensive and hopeful about her singing this time around. The strange half-growled-half-clean vocal style shown in the choruses of 'Predator and Prayer' and 'You're Coming With Me' is really down to personal taste, I wasn't too fond of it. But the chorus and groovy ending of 'Dead Ocean', most of 'Anxious Darwinians' and the epic finale of 'Revenge of the Dadaists' show that it's not only in the growl department that Alissa has serious power.
The step ups musically are mirrored by step ups in songwriting. While songs like 'You're Coming With Me' and 'The Lonely Solipsist' follow relatively straightforward structures, the band has also included some more progressive and diverse sounding tracks. 'Dead Ocean' is the huge success here, it is heavy, evolving, riff-centered and amazingly even manages to segue into a very natural sounding jazzy ending. Other longer tracks like the single 'Ideomotor' seem to lose their way a little. While not being a bad song, it just seems a little too rough, like lots of individual sections of music that just don't mesh well as a whole. Personally I would also argue that it was not a great choice for a single, as it isn't nearly as catchy or memorable as some of the album's other songs. Even so the 2 minute semi guitar solo at the end is almost fantastic enough to make up for the rest of the track before it.
Altogether this highlights the album's biggest, glaring flaw; the one thing preventing this band from being truly great. And that is memorability. There are no 'weak' tracks on the album, but at the same time there aren't many that will really stand out to you. 'Panophobia', for example, will make for a great mosh in concert but in context of the album it's easily overlooked. If this band can make the step up from writing a solid album to writing a classic, they have the potential to go very far.