Review Summary: Trophy Scars, you sly dogs.
Thank god Trophy Scars stopped being a punk band. While often the evolution most punk bands experience upon “growing up” turns them into either pop-punk drivel or cock-rock nonsense, Trophy Scars have turned from an incredibly random post-hardcore band into an incredibly effective…blues-punk-prog-jazz troupe? Where their previous album, Bad Luck
showcased the band slowing their tempo overall, it was still unmistakably derived from the aggression of a hardcore band. However, Darkness, Oh Hell
takes Trophy Scars closer to their obvious conclusion; the degeneration into a bar crawling, Tom Waits cover band.
I say that with as much praise as possible, because Darkness, Oh Hell
is breathtaking. It’s hard to discuss the album effectively, because so much of its goodness is invested in its depth. Every last second of the album is nuanced beyond belief, thanks to an amazing production and mixing job. Unlike previous Trophy Scars albums where the drums were too loud in the mix, and the riffs at times too indistinct to appreciate, Darkness, Oh Hell
gets captured perfectly. I daresay it might be one of the most impressive production jobs of the year, given what an underground release this really is, and the financial situation the band has been in.
As perfect as the extraneous aspects of the album may be (that album cover? After hearing the entire album oh my god is it perfect), the meat of Darkness, Oh Hell
is just as great. While many bands are trying to do the “pretty piano led, female vocals” introduction to their albums, Trophy Scars use it to set up the dynamic of Darkness
: beneath all of the obvious beauty, you can still hear traces of the lyrics being screamed, growled, and distorted. The sound of the album is pretty similar in tone to songs like “Anna Lucia” and “Good Luck” from Bad Luck
, but the instrumentation has been expanded to include piano and strings in pretty much every song, and horns make frequent guest appearances. The range of sound is gigantic, from the big band/western vibe of “Nausea”, which evolves into an orchestral mish mash of WIN near its end, to the melancholy of “Time in Heaven, Forever in Hell”. The guitars constantly intertwine, and often you’ll find both of them trading off with solos and lead lines, which would come off as haphazard if the drumming wasn’t so incredibly strong, never allowing the guitarists room to get too indulgent, keeping the songs in check.
Of special note is “Sad Stanley”. Where the other songs all retain elements of it, “Sad Stanley” simply transcends the album into a stratosphere of its own. I’m not going to talk about it, as it should be left to your interpretation. Just know that if you remotely like stuff I normally like, you’re going to flip a bitch (and if you don’t know what I like, just go ahead and look through my entire profile. What else are you going to do, look at Channing Freeman’s Taylor Swift review?) .
Darkness, Oh Hell
requires whatever amount of listening you’re willing to give it. As long as you can get past the vocals, which for a neophyte can be off putting, even a few listens will be rewarding. What makes the album special though is that it stacks up better and better with repeated plays, bringing something new and interesting every time you hear it. Whether it’s guitar flourishes you didn’t notice because of an intense drum section or a particularly awesome lyric, or just discovering that awesome lyric you had never quite noticed before, Darkness, Oh Hell
’s goodness comes in droves. It’s a shining example of an EP: its 5 songs run perfectly, each swelling up individually to their own heights, but working in tandem to bring the dark, chilling, but ultimately uplifting feel of the record to life. Darkness, Oh Hell
does what any album seeks to do: