Clean singing and impassioned screaming have always presented an interesting dynamic in music. Clean vocals allow for the instruments in a song to start off slowly, building up to a frenetic break where the screaming comes in and introduces cacophony into something that started off so soothing. It really represents the way that many people are feeling in this day and age; we don’t really know how to handle the daily stresses that impede our lives and slowly take control. Before we realize it, we are lamenting on how we have no control. Sometimes, though, these realizations hit us so quickly that it makes our heads spin. The Bled personify this feeling very well aurally. The vocal performance of James Munoz is arresting, as he goes from singing to shouting to screaming in the span of any given song. There are moments that are incredibly beautiful and longing, and his vocals are perfectly suited for making the change from the quieter moments to the heavier breaks that they are inevitably built for. The Bled are schizophrenic on “The Silent Treatment”, changing from melodic lulls to an all-out sonic assault. Clean, quiet guitar lines seamlessly transition into huge walls of distortion and unique breakdowns. While the element of experimentation is certainly here, it would be incredibly hard to argue that their previous release “Found in the Flood” did not pack the same sort of punch. Even without the band venturing into more creative territory, this is a band that is creating albums that reek unapologetically of passion and urgency. They could have created something a bit more commercial, something that is more palatable for the untrained ear; instead they pushed on with many moments of viciously arranged material that lends more to their heavier roots.
The atmospheric elements that the band embraces are really what set them apart from the majority of the bands that have a similar sound. “Shade Tree Mechanics” is a perfect opener to this album, as it gives a good sampling of what is to come. After a dissonant opening to the song, the song opens up with an extremely melodic and surprisingly catchy chorus. As the album continues on, the faults of the album become a bit more glaring; the songs begin to bleed together, and the album itself is a bit front-loaded. “Threes Away” is another highlight song, as it starts off loud and aggressive. James Munoz takes no prisoners, and all of the sudden, we are treated to a hushed Munoz whispering part of the chorus as arpeggiated guitars swirl around his voice. The transition of the heavier parts to the slower parts is both affecting and incredibly successful songwriting-wise. At the end of “Threes Away”, there is a beautiful ambient outro that bleeds perfectly into another stellar song “Asleep on the Frontlines”. This is the most melodic song on the record, and instead of the band switching back and forth between aggressive and melodic, they gently build up to a frenzied breakdown. While it is not generally how the band’s songs progress, it works very well here as it starts with an interesting guitar line with just the right amount of delay. As the song progresses, the drums and bass keep up a start and stop pattern, as the guitar line burns slowly and stays constant with the vocals.
The Bled also have a very good understanding of how to craft songs that play to their strengths. They are not afraid to create songs that have a short run time, which shows a great amount of maturity. It allows those songs to shine without overstaying their welcome (“Platonic Sleepover Massacre”, “Silver Lining”). With all of the great songs on this album, there are also ones that unfortunately don’t add much to the continuity. Quite frankly, they are incredibly generic and more derivative than anything else in their discography. “Starving Artiste” plods along at a medium pace, with no instruments standing out and Munoz phoning in one of his least varied vocal performances. “Some Just Vanish” doesn’t get interesting until the end of the song, as the whispered vocals are matching with an equally intimate-sounding guitar. “Breathing Room Barricades” is a late-album surprise, showing an ability to mesh melodic vocals with just the right amount of restraint.
“The Silent Treatment” is The Bled’s finest release to date, and while I was personally hoping for a more drastic leap forward in terms of experimentation and maturity after the excellent “Found in the Flood”, there is still quite a bit to be excited about here. They prove here that they have the ability to write songs that push the envelope and challenge the notion that the scream/sing dynamic is for the most part a gimmick to win two different sets of fans. Here's to hoping Munoz & co. create a full album's worth of amazing songs the next time around.
Asleep at the Frontlines
Breathing Room Barricades