Review Summary: A passionate, energetic, and timeless work to breathe fresh air into a dying scene.
At the time of this review, early 2013, Of Machines this album has been long out, it has received all its acclaim, the band has broken up, the fans have cried out for more, the fans moved on, and the band has reunited; a piece of news that has surged through the post-hardcore scene like a tidal wave. But upon discovering this in late 2010, I have not moved on. Not a week has gone by since I first discovered this where I do not just sit down, and have an Of Machines listening section. I wish I could say not a day, but everyone has a little affair here and there, flirting with new bands and songs, to distract them from that one work that never leaves there mind. Before jumping into this review, I must warn the reader. This is an album I am incredibly passionate about, in fact the most solid album I have ever heard. This review will be as objective as humanly possible, but I can't guarantee you that my emotions won't leak out from this rambling introduction.
The album does not start off with a kick. A gradual build up eases the listener along the first minute or so of the album. Ambience hums in the background as clashing glitch-like sounds and crunchy electronics sweep back and forth, a sound that appears frequently in the album, most notably comprising two of the album's eleven tracks entirely, serving as a build-up as we hear in "Introduction" and a break as we hear in "I Write This in Hopes Of...". But sixty six seconds later, Of Machines explodes onto the stage, tearing away the droning lack of urgency in the prior track as racing drums, sweeping, crisp guitars, and rough vocals clash and mold together. And we truly begin "As If Everything Was Held In Place".
The instrumentation is truly top notch. In a genre, a scene, filled with generic drum lines and br00t@l chuga-chuga guitars, we instead hear speedy, harmonious plucking on the guitar's higher toned strings (yes metalcore, they do exist!), and fast paced, crisp chords. There are indeed breakdowns, but they are executed urgently, with crunchy, clear guitars as opposed to deep, droning chugs. The guitar work really creates a mood for the album, primarily consisting of relatively high notes and a clean, ambient sound. The drum work truly show Austin Thornton at his finest, before an unfortunate shift downward in quality with Woe, Is Me. They remain almost consistently fast paced and well executed, and provide a beat to head bob to in the album's many build-up sections, where vocals are soft and ambient, and the guitar is a fading tone of feedback. Unfortunately, the bass is almost completely absent in many instances, due to standard post-hardcore production, but the other instruments more than make up for it. One thing work noting is the incredible use of build-up and timing. Many songs feature explosive beginnings, middle sections, then one or two shifts in tone and volume before a grand finale. It's done almost flawlessly, keeping the listener anticipating the next clash of sound.
But the vocals really are the face of this band. Bennett Freeman and Dylan Anderson really are the dynamic duo. Often times vocals will bleed into each other, or while one takes the forefront the other echoes or does their own thing in the background. It's incredibly refreshing to see an approach utilizing both vocal sets equally and together, as opposed to the single screaming sections and repeated choruses we hear all too often in this genre. Freeman is generally a middle/high unclean vocalist, providing passionate screams, albeit a tad nasally. Anderson pierces the ear drums with energetic screams and unbelievable notes, truly the most prominent feature of this album. Often sounding desperate, his work is packed with emotion and a great range, which compliments the higher pitch of the guitars, electronics, and Freeman's screams incredibly well. The whole album sits at quite a mid/high range, yet another breath of fresh air, as most other acts sit at the overdone low range of sound.
While sound remains the most vital component to the success of a band, the lyrics are a force that can potentially make or break a band, and is one that requires analysis as well. While they serve primarily as an infrastructure, something to drive the vocals in some sort of direction, they aren't half bad. They often fit the tone of the desperate cries done by Freeman and Anderson. For example, the closing of "Closer to Closure" as Anderson screams "Don't fall asleep, don't fall asleep! We can't afford you to be alone!" or the entire finishing section of Reset, Reflect. They don't make much sense as a whole, there is very little underlying message in any song, and no consistent theme of the album. One liners could make nice quotes such as "Just one more night, we have to keep this moving", but they lack in the aforementioned way.
Just about every track is as solid as the last, although the instrumental interludes only serve as bridges when you play the album in a direct sequence from 1. - 11., but serve no real purpose outside of that. "Reset, Reflect" and "It Must Belong Somewhere" are my two personal favorites, but the album finale is a perfect closer to a classic album, and "Sailing Alone" is a very unique track in itself, a floaty, dreaming track interrupted by a bone-crushing closing section. All in all, the album as a whole is rock solid. This still sits as my favorite album of all time, and if you haven't already, give it a listen. It's well worth the experience.
Pros: Instrumentation, vocals, production, electronic theme
Cons: Lacking in bass, somewhat odd lyrics
*This is my first review, my apologies if it's overly long, overly fanboyish, or lacking in quality in itself. Just trying to spread the good word of Of Machines*