Review Summary: Midheaven is a sloppy and nauseatingly pretentious blend of alt. rock and technical metal. An absolute mess of an album.
As I write this review, I am not listening to Midheaven
. As I write this review, I am not listening to Nocturne
. No, as I write this review, I am listening to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
. It's not because I'm about to make draw some profound parallel between The Human Abstract and Wilco, it's because Midheaven
is such a blatantly uninteresting album that I've dreaded re-playing it. If only that were an option.
The Human Abstract is a band I've been unconditionally hard on in years past. It was in part due to the gross misstatements that followed their name, words like "virtuoso" and assertions such as "classically influenced". The contempt I felt for the band was, in fact, a result of the hype: it's not that they, having just released their debut Nocturne
, were without potential, but rather that potential was the sole redemptive proprietor found within their music. This notion, the idea of potential, is the other reason that while I refused to give them the benefit of a doubt--I expected more. Nocturne
was marred not by poor songwriting, but rather a lack of songwriting altogether. The vocals were somehow both nasally and throaty, simultaneously over processed yet strikingly out of key and the band's over-marketed technical veracity, exhibited primarily by [now former] guitarist AJ, was both overwrought and under-written, more often than not nothing more than some lifeless sweeping inserted to distract from the band's somewhat faulty musical formula. But I saw something; something I've come to realize was nothing at all.
One of the biggest issues with Midheaven
is the near omnipresence of vocalist, lyricist and lead-douchebag Nathan Ells. Midheaven
reeks of Nathan's self-absorbed stench. It drips with the very same blood and sweat he more than likely keeps in a jar on his kitchen counter. Nathan is just flat-out unlikeable in every sense of the word, and it's made worse by the fact that he's completely in love with himself and almost completely tone deaf. See, he got somewhat of a pardon for his shortcomings on Nocturne
because he was the new guy, having very recently joined the band as their replacement vocalist. Apparently intended to be a conceptually layered album about the cyclical nature of history and the world, Midheaven
is instead akin to the political diatribes of a 14 year old who reads far too much [bad] poetry, varying between nonsensical metaphors and painfully blatant socio-political dilettantism. Of course, the lyrics are only made worse by their delivery, which fluctuates between nasal crooning, mundane shouting and far more sing-talking and spoken word than anyone should ever be exposed to. "Procession of the Fates" contains a particularly nonsensical bout of spoken word that gets more confusing with each passing listen:
All those around you crawl to a quiet, your eyes start to cross the room but it's just an illusion, the room doesn't exist, it's only you and I. And it's almost like you cant fail at all, but maybe you've failed already. What you choose to see is real: a cold dark road of enemies and obstacles you can never overcome or a bright future ahead.
As noted, Midheaven
is primarily an alternative rock album laced with metalcore influences, a formula that stumbles more often than not. "Breathing Life into Devices" attempts to coalesce ultra technical metalcore into an alt rock ballad, only to sound like two wholly different, equally terrible songs: it begins sounding like a broken Meshuggah album before turning into a Jamiroquai fronted alt-rock ballad, finally ending on a solo that's neither welcomed nor impressive. In fact, Andrew Tapley often sounds as though he's playing a broken, out of tune guitar. "Calm In The Chaos" tries to live up to its name by starting as a drab acoustic number before turning into a keyboard ridden mess of quasi-spirited cries ("what do you believe"") and predictable crescendos. Beyond the laughable singing, broken guitar work and invasive keyboard playing, the rest of the band is relatively lifeless. The rhythm section is as adequate and uninteresting as you can get, with the bass being re-recorded by a session musician (John Mayer's bassist just screams cred') after a childish quibble between former bassist Mike Nordeen and the rest of the band.
rights many of the wrongs strewn throughout Nocturne
and yet it's much worse for it. Yes, Midheaven
does feel like an album full of songs rather than a bunch assorted verses and parts haphazardly thrown together. But the songs just aren't very good. Midheaven
is a Human Abstract that no longer uses their technical flair to pander to naivety and charm; Midheaven
is instead a lifeless, over-pretentious mess that clumsily attempts to blend alternative rock and technical metalcore -- a band pulling at threads on a closeted shirt while trying on another, more beige coloured one. It follows a recently growing trend in the metal world, one that sees bands retaining elementary characteristics of their "heavy" roots all the while stripping their music down to a more homogenised sound. An implied sense of maturation is evident but it's the total opposite that's conveyed. Instead of sounding like they've grown up, The Human Abstract come off as insecure and unsure whether they're recording music for themselves or for their critics. Make no mistakes about it, for all its political content and religious imagery, Midheaven
is a blatantly childish recording.