4 of 4 thought this review was well writtenAt the dawn of the 21st century, it seemed hardcore music was doomed. Pop was quickly pushing away all forms of music, and hardcore, already a dying art, began to fade into the background. In the meantime, Canada was beginning to find new musical icons. Bands like Sum 41 were already huge, and newcomers like Simple Plan and Avril Lavigne began to become household names. It truly seemed that really great Canadian music was doomed.
To be honest, Alexisonfire had every reason to fail. They were a hardcore band, whose lead singer was less a singer and more a screamer. They were fast, loud, and uncompromising. They were quite ugly, and smelled a bit funky. So the question is this: How did Alexisonfire go from being a small St. Catherines based band to Canada's premiere hardcore act?
Well, in my opinion, there is a simple answer to that question. The answer is two simple words: Pulmonary Archery
. Yes, the last song and first single off Alexisonfire's self-titled debut album is the reason they are the giant hardcore band they are today.
But I get ahead of myself. My review of Pulmonary Archery will come later.
Right now, let's look at the full CD.
Track 1 - 44. Caliber Love Letter (4:30)
Well, if you bought this album, and expected to instantly be blasted with screaming, you might have to wait a bit. The first two minutes of this song are entirely instrumental. However, you won’t miss the screams, as this is one of the best instrumentals you've probably heard in a long time. There is no lead guitar in this. Both Dallas and Wade share the stage, with two separate riffs just beautifully complimenting each other. Steele also gives a solid, yet less noticed, bass accompaniment. Jesse also lays down perfect beats, slowly building up to the end of the instrumental and into the beginning of what Alexisonfire really is. When George enters, the whole roof is blown off. We get three totally unique vocal performances throughout, from George's haunting screams, to Dallas's beautiful singing, to Wade's throaty and powerful shouts. The song carries a strong melody throughout, and never relents. This song encaptures everything Alexisonfire is, without any access fat. Truly melodic hardcore at its best. 5/5
Track 2 - Counterparts And Number Them (2:18)
This is the shortest track on the whole album, and second single. It starts off fast and loud, with two guitars playing at blistering speed. It then slows down a bit so we can get into the first verse. Now there seems to be an extra note in this verse, because at a certain point it ends up sounding sour and overcrowded. From here, however, the song starts to really pick up, and Dallas enters during the chorus to deliver us with some beautiful vocals. About half way through the song, it becomes a breakdown fest with the bass drum and guitar, which leads nicely into the calm riff that follows. The main problem with this song is that is whizzes by too fast, and we aren't left with a definite sense of what we just heard. Still a good track, just not spectacular. 3.75/5
Track 3 - Adelleda (5:47)
From the shortest song to the longest, Adella is definitely a unique song. It starts off with some quiet ambience, which slowly lead into the the quiet beginning. We can already tell there is something different about this song. It's much slower then the previous songs, and manages to be both hardcore and relaxing. The actual centre of the song is pretty basic, and there's not to much to say about it. What is really impressive about this song is the ending. It may be the most unexpected part of the entire album. A soft piano closer. Yep, piano. And it may be one of the most beautiful piano pieces I've ever heard in contemporary music. As a piano player myself, it takes a lot to impress me. I am totally impressed. Worth it for the ending alone. 4/5
Track 4 - A Dagger Through The Heart Of St. Angeles (4:12)
Right from the calm ending of Adelleda, we are brought into one of the weirdest songs on the album. The lyrics alone are crazy, describing school anxiety, before switching over to the description of two Catholic schools girls called Love and Freedom in mid knife fight. The song starts hard and loud, with two guitars dueling in a frenzy of speed and energy. The riffs carry a sickly sweet and twisted melody with them, and give the song even more power. There is a brief interlude in the second half, and really changes the mood. It goes from this crazy powerhouse of a song to an almost poppy relaxing interlude. George re-enters near the end of the interlude, but not to scream, but to use his odd spoken vocals. This is actually one of the most memorable parts of the song, as George calmly describes these two girls killing each other with a switchblade. After this is over, the song kicks right back into gear, faster and more powerful than before. The song ends just as suddenly as it began, and we are left to puzzle on what we have just heard. Definitely a standout track, just for the sheer craziness of the song. 5/5
Track 5 - Polaroids of Polar Bears (5:08)
This song is an absolute fan favorite at concerts, and if you have ever heard them play the song, you know why. If the lyrics to the last song were weird, these are just plain insane. Supposedly this song is just about being bored and having your mind wander, which makes sense, because the subject matter jumps all over the place, from rape to gymnastics. The song begins with quiet guitars playing a calming, slow tune. The song stays this way until 1:20, when the distortion is finally cranked in, and the song really starts to pick up. Like Adelleda, the centre of the song isn't all too special, just basic AOF. About three and a half minutes in, the song slows down again, to a part very similar to the beginning. Finally, we are brought to the true end of the song, which begins with George rhyming off a list of random objects, and ends with powerful chords and a wicked distortion on Dallas's voice, which really adds to the song. A nice relaxing tune. Definitely one of the better songs on the album. 4.75/5
Track 6 - Waterwings (And Other Poolside Fashion Faux Pas) (2:41)
The punkiest song on the album, Waterwings was the third single, for obvious reasons. As with most good punk, it starts off blindingly fast, with a catchy 3-chord melody. However, this goes beyond standard punk, and Alexisonfire manage to bring some life into a dying genre. This isn't just some standard 3–chord song. In fact, there are far more than 3 chords, as AOF take a genre built off the principles of simplicity, and make it complicated, while still staying true to its punk roots. This song has some very impressive riffs in it, and the speed only helps accentuate that. As an interesting twist, Wade actually is allowed to scream near the end of the song, and as his screams have a more punk feel to them, it brings out even more in the genre. Definitely another standout, and the album's only real punk song. 5/5
Track 7 - Where No One Knows (3:12)
This is where the album starts to decline slightly. Where No One Knows was originally a solo song written by Dallas, but it has been adapted to fit AOF's style. It's an ok song, just not all that special. The opening riff is actually pretty darn impressive, but other then that, there's not a lot that's unique about the song. Dallas doesn't use his vocals as well as he has in other parts of the album, and it gets almost annoying after a while. To be honest, the song is boring, and doesn't provoke any interest. In my opinion, this song is the least impressive song on the CD, and the first filler. 2.75/5
Track 8 - The Kennedy Curse (3:38)
This track isn't a standout, but in no way is it bad. It's one of the better songs on the album, even if it starts off a bit sloppy. This song is basically a standard song, but with a bunch of very unique moments thrown in. The first of these comes at 1:40, when the guitars go quiet and Dallas starts singing "When white bleeds into red...", which is perfectly complimented by George's spoken vocals. It's a very calm and peaceful moment in a song that is actually one of the harder songs on the album. The second standout moment, and the most profound, comes in at 2:42. Despite the fact that his screams throughout the album have been quite high, he shows us that he still can shape his voice as he pleases. He shows this by going to an almost satanic low sounding scream section. For 15 seconds, George assaults us with the darkest vocals on the entire album, something that has not been done since. For that moment only, this song is saved from the filler pot. A fairly solid track. 4/5
Track 9 - Jubella (2:29)
At 2 1/2 minutes, this is the second shortest song on the album. It has been regarded by fans as the worst song on the album, but I would have to disagree. As I have already stated, the title of worst track goes to Where No One Knows. Plus, I don't consider this song to actually be that bad. Sure, it's a short track, and Dallas's vocals aren't great, but it's a kinda catchy track. The drumming is top notch, and the song has some catchy guitar riffs. Plus, the pure speed gives the song a good feel to it. It's definitely not a great track, but neither is it bad. It's just kinda average. 3.25/5
Track 10 - Little Girls Pointing And Laughing (4:54)
One of the most overlooked songs on the album, and one of their best. Surprisingly, this was the second song the band ever wrote, yet has a sense of maturity that most of the album is missing. While George dominates most of the songs on the album, this song gives singer Dallas a chance to show his stuff. And it's some good stuff. This song is much quieter than many of their other songs, and lends itself to Dallas's vocal performance on the song. The "chorus" (one of the few songs on the album that has a chorus) is absolutely crazy, with Dallas singing/shouting and George giving power to Dallas's performance by adding his own layer of screams. The song is beautiful, and is so overlooked by most fans. This song really makes you feel like the album has peaked, and leaves you ready to see the band can top the song. Awesome track. 4.75/5
Track 11 - Pulmonary Archery (3:20)
When a band releases their first single, they need to choose the song carefully. If their first single does well, they can have a successful career. A lot of bands choose to release the first track of the album as a single. Alexisonfire chose their last song. And what a choice it was. This song got them their first airplay on Much Music, got them their first sold out shows, and probably was the reason the album is now gold. Pulmonary Archery can only be described as "AOF's classic song". And it is a classic. An Alexisonfire concert will not go by without these guys playing this song. This song has defined them, re-energized them, and turned them into Canada's leading hardcore act.
The first 45 seconds of this song is just quite guitars playing an extremely beautiful riff, one guitar a half step behind the other. This creates a beautiful echo effect, and really helps the feeling of the song. After the interlude, the song starts to get moving. The distortion is cranked up, and the guitars lay down the same riffs found in the interlude. After 25 seconds of distorted guitar brilliance, the song really gets going, with George's cry of "Let's Go!". Of course, the guitars continue to lay down the most amazing riffs you will ever here, while George and Dallas take turns singing/screaming. Every single riff in the song is brilliant, and provides a sound rarely heard in contemporary hardcore: the sound of beauty. The ending at 2:28 almost makes you want to cry, with Dallas's amazing singing, George's terrifying screams, and the amazing guitar work comes together to end what is, without a doubt, Alexisonfire's best song. Ever. 10/5
Overall, the album has some of AOF's highest highs (Pulmonary Archery, 44. Calibre Love Letter) and their lowest lows (Where No One Knows, Jubella). While this album is nowhere near as mature as their future offerings, it's still a great album, and is definitely worth picking up. After all, you gotta remember the past to respect the future.
Overall Rating: 4/5