Review Summary: “The rhythm is enough to drive you mad”
In 2010, three years after the Philadelphia metalcore group ALOL’s mostly unpopular release Iron Gag, the band released the track “Expression of Hate” over the internet. The pre-production demo track featured many of the trademarks that made the band’s earlier releases so popular: Bob Meadows’ signature harsh growls, memorable mathy riffs, and low-tuned air tight grooves that you couldn’t help but bob your head to. It was a natural return to form for a group that many had criticized for abandoning the elements that had defined prior albums A Great Artist and Hunter. This teaser seemed to hint at an album that would feel a more like a true follow-up to 2005's Hunter.
However this album takes off in an entirely different direction. What you can expect on Ecstatic Trance is much of what the title might suggest. The guitar parts tend to stick to repetitive riffing and the simple drum patterns imprint the beat onto the song in a manner that is almost trance-like at times. This new style of composition seems much more reminiscent of Meshuggah and much less like Lamb of God, both bands considered to be ALOL’s major stylistic influences. Hovering over the droning rhythm section, the lead guitar serves to provide atmosphere within a track then often bursting into soaring solos at predictable times during a track. Some of the lead parts do well to define a track (Gnawing Lisp) while others come across as seemingly uninspired and ill-fitting additions (Madness is God). It is also worth noting that the drums suffer from a severe lack of any sort of dynamic and more often feel inadequate rather than stylistically appropriate for the repetitious nature of most of the songs. To be certain, a strength of the album is found in vocalist Bob Meadows, whose progression shows as a broader range of vocal techniques is showcased here than in previous albums.
After a few listens, the overall product feels much less thorough than one might expect after a five-year wait. A Great Artist and Hunter worked because they appealed to enthusiasts of both groove metal and math metal by synthesizing the nuances of both. This album fails to incorporate the elements of either effectively while simultaneously trying to incorporate new influences into some truly uninteresting songs. No one track particularly stands out against the rest and I found myself getting tired of some tracks before I had even finished listening to them.
I can’t help but find myself wondering what happened between 2010 and now. What became of the material the band was so hard at work on in the years following Iron Gag and why was it all put away in favor of this instead?
Regardless, I would recommend this album to anyone who was a fan of other albums if only for a single listen through to see how they’ve changed. If you're new to the band check out their back catalogue instead.