Review Summary: A stirring tale told through the lens of instrumental acrobatics
Every time I hear about a band with "technical" somewhere in its description, I shudder a bit. Bands that like to show off their virtuosity walk a thin, dangerous line between the innovation that comes from mastery and self-indulgent wankery. Too many bands forget I don't listen to music to be instructed; I'm not attending some drum or guitar clinic. I listen to music to feel something
. And yes, awe counts. I've been starstruck by masterful musicians before, and there's something to be said for that. But there has to be something there that keeps me coming back -- no matter how many notes you can eke out in a song's runtime, I'll get bored eventually if that's all there is to it.
Fortunately, Save Us From the Archon gets it. Their brand of instrumental, guitar-centric math rock blends frantic shredding and downright bizarre drum grooves with just enough atmospheric interludes to lull the listener into feeling secure before the next gut punch. Thereafter
almost seems to abandon time signatures entirely, nimbly jumping every few seconds from riff to riff and stanza to stanza, never letting anything grow stagnant. It's a lot to take in at once, but thankfully, the songs aren't just extended solos. There's a good deal of emotional substance wrapped up in here; the overall experience is beautiful, almost ecstatic.
It's difficult to recall how songs actually sound, but the impressions they leave stick. Opener "You Don't Recall Our House Near the Ocean" leaves me reeling after the slow build abruptly shifts into a frantic, punk-esque stanza, and the fuzzy outro feels very much like SUFTA wants to give fans a chance to breathe. The closing one-two punch of "Awake and Regretful" and "Informed of the Reality Left There, in the After" is triumphant, with soaring melodies rewarding those who've survived the barrage of riffs and fills.
The only real gripe against Thereafter
is there's not enough variety-- songs too often rely on a "frantic introduction, slow down, frantic stanza, long interlude" formula, and don't do quite enough to differentiate themselves. While the breaks in the wall of sound are welcome, I'd love to see what happens if interludes developed into full-fledged tracks rather than tags on the end of bigger beasts, or just woven more seamlessly within tracks.
But I can't deny that SUFTA wrings a great deal of emotion out of its dizzying technicality. Even after the initial shock of "he played what
how fast"!" wears off, I find myself listening to this again and again, getting lost in the maelstrom. Thereafter
is a consistently addicting album, a highly concentrated dose of energy and euphoria, and the year's best instrumental album to date.