Review Summary: Cast overboard into a sea of songs? Grab one to stay afloat.
There are endless topics for individual songs to explore within an album; from the familiar and commonplace, to the downright peculiar. Sometimes, a single song or a small collection of tracks is simply not enough to thoroughly explore said topics in the detail that an artist deems necessary. When such an occasion arises, a concept album is born. Australian metalcore legends The Amity Affliction
have chosen to dedicate their fourth full-length release to the element of water, or more specifically, the Ocean.
As far as concept albums go, the classical elements have always been a favourite topic. Legions of bands throughout the history of music have eagerly exploited the connotations attached to the nature of fire, water, earth, air and rarely the somewhat neglected quintessence, aether, to advantageously shape their music into a cohesive body of work. Mastodon
, for perhaps the most well-known example, have successfully crafted four masterpieces based upon the basic elements; so it comes as no surprise that yet another band have decided to tackle a concept album centred around an element. Concept albums are generally dangerous territory; handled correctly, the outcome can be spectacular, even beautiful. Handled incorrectly, however, the subject matter can become irritatingly sterile and repetitive if limited ideas are stretched over the length of a standard LP. Such albums can be career-threateningly boring. That being said, Let the Ocean Take Me
is an aural embodiment of the Ocean in every aspect; power, magnitude and magnificence, but a lot of the time, it’s much of the same.
Instrumentally, this album shines. The drumming is fantastically heavy and frantic, effectively complimenting the music in every instance and giving the music a solid and consistent backbone. The breakdown in ‘FML’, and the entire track in general, offers up some exemplary drumming from Ryan Burt, despite the unfortunate title of the song. Ever punchy, the drumming is a constant and welcome presence throughout the album and is a definite highlight. The guitarists also embrace every opportunity to display their aptitude. This is the first record to feature the new guitarist Dan Brown and he fits in perfectly. The song-writing in general is geared towards the guitars, whether they be chugging away or playing through some interesting riffs. The down-tuned, low end attack from the guitars are what make up the bulk of this album, giving a sense of foreboding power, synonymous to the immense strength of the Ocean. Singles ‘Pittsburgh’ and ‘Don’t Lean on Me’ showcase the guitarists playing abilities in all the right ways and it’s no wonder they were chosen to represent the album pre-release. The bass guitar, while often ‘drowned’ out by the barrage of other instruments, still shines in a number of instances, particularly in the slower parts of the album. Ahren Stringer proves that just because he is occupied with vocal duties, he has not neglected to give the bass some presence. It is, however, still buried too deeply beneath the other instruments to have the impact that it should.
The clean/unclean vocal mix is still fantastic. Joel Birch’s screams have an impact that invokes images of roaring waves on a stormy sea, while the roiling and pitching of Ahrens cleans mellow out the scene and become the Yang to Joel’s Yin. ‘Give it All’ display a worthy example of the coalition in full effect and creates one of the most interesting moments on the album, a fitting conclusion.
There are a few instances where the members feel ‘lost at sea’. For one, the lyrics are extremely straight forward the majority of the time. They’re not necessarily ineffective, but the artists are clearly pushing the ‘Ocean’ theme way too much. The listener is never allowed to forget the concept throughout the entirety of the album. At almost every opportunity we are reminded of the main theme with phrases such as; “It’s like there’s water in my lungs”, “I am lost right now as the Ocean deep”, “We can always turn the tide”, and other choice phrases that are constant reminders of the theme. They successfully come up with new ways each time to describe the deep blue, but it’s a tad overkill.
The instrumental component also invokes images of an expansive ocean, but that not always a good thing. There isn’t an extensive diversity on display here, with a lot of the tracks feeling a little too similar. It’s not to the point where the beginning of one track is impossible to distinguish from the conclusion of the last, but the album becomes a little too familiar, especially in the third quarter of the album. It’s not until you separate the songs out that you begin to understand their unique differences, but as a complete album the experience can become quite tiring. The need to remove individual songs in order to pull a solid meaning from them defies the concept album’s raison d'etre anyway. The vocalists especially aid in the repetitious nature of the album. The consistent formula of fast, furious shouts from Joel and then long, drawn out cleans from Ahren seems to be repeated throughout the album, with changes between the two occurring almost as reliably as the tide. On top of that, ‘Forest Fire’ is a bland meandering into who know where and feels as misplaced on this album as its title suggests. It’s directionless honestly and quite simply dull. There are no other tracks akin to its disappointment on the album, but the track is still an obvious mar
There are some really interesting bits and pieces scattered throughout the album though. The piano on ‘Don’t Lean on Me’ creates an ethereal atmosphere that lifts the entire track and gives it a spark of individuality. The sample on ‘Never Alone’ is entirely depressing and was handled beautifully, coupled with some additional piano playing softly in the background. The track itself is also a highlight of the album. Some gang-vocals to great affect too, giving the album some depth. The production is also quite excellent, aside from the aforementioned bass guitar issue, but the remaining instruments sound fantastic and the vocalists are crisp and clear.
In the end, Let the Ocean Take Me
is not the most consistent or exciting metalcore album, not even when just considering the bands own catalogue, but it is an extremely solid album that delivers on the promises of its concept and offers an enjoyable listening experience overall.