Review Summary: Drowning in a sea of misery has never sounded so good.
If you are a fan of The Amity Affliction or somewhat followed last year's Warped Tour, chances are you heard of the troubles front man Joel Birch had to deal with during the tour. After an almost fatal car crash, a history of mental issues and years of substance abuse, everything sort of came to a head. Basically, his drug and alcohol use got so bad that he collapsed of dehydration, had to be hospitalized, and his heart even stopped at one point. In his interviews with countless sources, Joel revealed how this near-death experience brought much light back into his life, and was a HUGE inspiration lyrically. The question is though, was the band able to channel all of these thoughts and emotions into a solid album? To which the answer is a resounding yes.
In what seems like an odd title, the first single, "Pittsburgh" is actually a more than appropriate opener, considering that the first show Birch missed due to the aforementioned hospitalization was in none other than the Steel City. Once his clean vocals kick in, bassist Ahren Stringer lets us know right off the bat the concept of this album "I am lost right now as the ocean deep". The ocean is referenced to so often due to the fact that Joel Birch has a real connection to it, being from Australia which is surrounded by it. The end bridge of "Pittsburgh" contains the unexpected addition of a children's choir singing the chorus before the whole band kicks back in to really drive it home. Though starting off fairly successful, old habits die hard it seems, as it is easy to tell "Lost & Fading" is just another song for the angst-ridden teenager. However, the drumming really adds to the cleans once Ahren shows up. Ryan Burt has always been a band highlight in my opinion, as he usually manages to add nice filler behind the kit. Unfortunately, the song is completely ruined by a short and unnecessary breakdown that is for some reason considered necessary in so many of their songs. The short interlude with distant vocals when the instruments stop AFTER this breakdown would do just fine as a break. "Don't Lean On Me" was the second single released, and for good reason. I absolutely love the beautiful piano opening, and how it is met with Birch screaming "Let the ocean take me!", as the instruments kick in with a symphonic background accompanying. One of the best hooks on the album can be found in the chorus, yet it simultaneously provides a sincere message. Birch tells the listener he knows of the troubles they're going through because he reads all the messages they send him, and it breaks his heart that he can't be their relief. In contrast, Stringer's lines beg the listener to hold on, but not to put too much of the weight on him because he has his own problems that are weighing him down, and he does not want the listener to drown with him. While some may consider this just another generic Amity song, the construction of it makes it stand out from the crowd.
To keep this somber and sincere tone, the piano is used once again to open the next song, "The Weigh Down". A clever concept of using the word "weigh" to illustrate how life's grief is bringing him down just as gravity brings our weight down to earth. Unfortunately, another unnecessary breakdown ruins the tone of the song in the end. "Never Alone" 's title is self-explanatory, yet it contains the most enjoyable chorus on the album. Through the song's entirety, it is much more upbeat thanks in part to Burt's drumming once again. However, it is apparent that The Amity Affliction is still somewhat "weighed down" themselves by habits of the past, as a synth-laden breakdown is thrown in toward the end that absolutely demolishes what would have been a very enjoyable song. An interesting touch once the music on the track stops is the recorded voicemail. In it, he is trying to reach someone, and explains that he doesn't know why he's always so tired and depressed. He is so tired of drinking his problems away that he thinks it may be time to end it all. It must involve a story tied in with the next song, as we hear a distant guitar riff that is met with the group scream of "I held death's hand this evening". It is obvious that no song personifies Joel's aforementioned near-death experiences better than this song. He speaks of how he can't die because he has "got some promises to keep, To all the hearts that carried me up from the ocean deep". By this we assume he's talking about the important people in his life (kids, girlfriend, etc.), and one can almost imagine him lying on the operating table fighting for his life. All of this sentiment and emotion is really hindered however, when the line "Hey Death, get ***ed!" is uttered and followed by the ensuing breakdown. Though the title is questionable, "FML" definitely continues the trend of a heavier sound, bringing some of the best and most inspired vocal work from Birch. The same can be said for "My Father's Son", a very personal song evident not only from the lyrics, but the vocal performance as well. The tempo and ferocity is suddenly slowed down by the soft opening of "Forest Fire", and once again Ahren's vocals offer one of the more catchy sing-a-long choruses. The album closes on an interesting note though. It is no secret that many of The Amity Affliction's songs are directed toward the audience of young ones who may be struggling with various things. The band is well aware of this, and "Give It All" is an ode to them. The only difference is that Birch screams of the overwhelming pressure felt having to keep that connection with so many people. Even if it causing him to wither away, I must commend him and the rest of the band for all the time and energy spend trying to help others.
While I appreciate the sincere effort of trying to connect with these fans, I believe the band tries TOO hard at it. The younger kids like stuff to mosh to, so they threw breakdowns in some (thank god not all) of these songs that really ruin any potentially shining moments. It is very maddening to say the least. From the beginning of the album, I noticed something very similar to their last one. Even though they went along well with the beats and lyrics, the guitars never really had any standout moments. Vocals and lyrical content obviously were the biggest focus, but the instrumentation needs to have moments other than just in the middle of breakdowns where they can stand out. Obviously, if you were not a fan of the band to begin with, Let The Ocean Take Me is not going to change your mind, and any future releases probably will not either. The band has already mentioned numerous times how they are not going to change anything in the future, just refine their current sound. Now, whether this is a good or bad thing is debatable by opinion, but one thing that IS certain is that The Amity Affliction's fourth record is a good one. One that presents something much of the music world is lacking nowadays: sentiment.