Review Summary: An emotional, utterly unforgettable assault on the senses -- Between the Heart and the Synapse is a landmark for the rock genre.
How could have ever guessed that a quintet in their mere 20’s from Boston, Massachusetts would be able to produce a music album so inspiring, so unique, consistently brilliant and wholly original that it would eventually invade your mind? Because The Receiving end of Sirens’ debut album Between the Heart and the Synapse is indeed such an album – an album that explores such a wide plethora of different sounds and genres that outright putting a label on it is damn near impossible. The easiest way to sum up this gargantuan, 71-minute long assault on the senses would be to call it post-hardcore infused with progressive and ambient rock; further infused with electronic rock and emo-laden hard-rock. Yet meshing these five distinct genres into a singular whole would not produce a sound that resembles that of The Receiving end of Sirens. The band has a sound they call their own, and that alone, is an absolutely amazing feat.
So how does this band differ from its contemporaries? Well first of all, you have three separate guitarists tackling rhythm and lead guitar licks, and two of them, Alex Bars and Casey Crescenzo alongside bass guitarist Brendan Brown handle the vocals. That’s right: three guitarists, three lead vocalists. What might initially seem a little overburdened quickly becomes anything but. In the opening track Planning a Prison Break, the guitars soar in the beginning before exploding into harmonized solos, followed by a laid back verse sung by Casey, which segways beautifully into the memorable chorus sung first by Brendan and then by Alex. Many of the band members even take turns in playing keyboards during some of the more subdued parts and the synthesized, sonically sounding keys complement the triple guitar and vocal assaults perfectly.
Then there is the songwriting, which is in a word: incredible. The album is actually more of a concept album, featuring persistent themes and moods that make each song feel like a chapter in an ongoing story. The lyrics are often abstract, difficult to decipher and sometimes feel like excerpts out of a play – with actual dialogues transpiring in songs, with the three vocalists taking different roles (yes this is just as phenomenally cool as it sounds) and the end result is beautiful.
Like a felon, he fell into scandals,
Scams, and master plans
To circumvent all circumstances
He thought to his throat,
"We can swallow this key and leave when we please"
Moreover, the album feels less like a collection of jumbled together songs and more like a gracefully moving adventure; shifting its tone and sound to an amazing degree and as such the album develops actual pacing. Furthermore, strewn across all of the 13 tracks are some absolutely unforgettable moments. The intro to “The War of All against All”, which features pulse-pounding war drums and escalating symphonies that then explode into an emotional synthesis of guitars, keyboards, bass and drums is absolutely spine-tingling -- whereas the adrenaline-rushing outro to “Broadcast Quality” which, surprisingly enough, features screamed vocals in the vein of a full-blown post-hardcore band is indeed a stand-out moment.
But the real killer app on this album: a song so emotional, so inspiring and so evocative that I get chills just by writing about it is ”This Armistice”. After a brief, atmospheric opening, Alex leads the way with a stellar verse that is rounded out with a stirring bridge before evolving into what could be one of the best damn choruses I’ve ever heard in my life – with every vocalist harmonizing their vocals whilst singing different parts:
We're all puppets (Tell me who's pulling the strings)
We're all marionettes
We're all puppets (Tell me who's that you move for)
We're all marionettes
And of course, the bone-chilling, eargasm-inducing outro-bridge:
Oh, how I've been teething (Tell me who's pulling the strings)
In light of your misleading
you’ve caused this collapse (Tell me who's that you move for)
between the heart and the synapse
If I ever become a musician, I’ll personally attribute my entire career to this song alone. Etched into my mind everyday, echoing in my dreams and forever being listened to – This Armistice is one of the best songs I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. It’s just that good.
There is not a single dull moment on this album, and I truly can’t fathom how on earth the band was able to not only create such an outstanding collection of tracks, but also put them in an order where they lead into and play off each other. It’s deftly handled, perfectly planned and masterfully executed; producer Matt Squire seriously deserves a lot of kudos for his work here.
Now, are there any flaws worthy of being pointed out here? Well, sort of. While I appreciate the epic, swooning feeling that the length of the album emits, the 71-minute length is definitely not for everybody. Some songs usually end with a long, drawn out outro that’s added for the sake of an atmospheric touch and even the last track, entitled Epilogue is technically only five minutes long, but if you wait an additional five minutes, there’s a bizarre hidden track waiting for you. The artistic freedom taken here is definitely commendable, but for some, the outros will likely come off as unnecessary padding.
Furthermore, while the vocals on the album are absolutely outstanding across the board – extrapolating between what vocalist sings what can become an extraordinary challenge. Brendan’s and Alex’s voices sound more or less identical with Brendan’s being only slightly higher pitched. I actually had to look up several videos of live performances to tell what vocalist sang what parts, but in the end it doesn’t really matter, all I know is that it all clicks wonderfully.
Basically, what I’m trying to say with all of this rambling is that Between the Heart and The Synapse is simply an unprecedented masterpiece. The three-pronged guitar and vocal attacks, brilliant songwriting and musicianship and the inspired song structures all give way to an unforgettable album that even after seven years since its release, has stood the test of time. Anyone with the slightest bit of interest in hard-rock and electronic rock or post-hardcore has simply got to check out this album. You will not regret it.