Review Summary: Simply put, it’s far and away the best you’re going to get out of Rise.
Despite only being born in '95, I often sit back and revel in the greatness of the seminal post-hardcore groups that have resonated with me throughout my young adult life. I will always revere titans like At the Drive-In, Glassjaw, Fugazi, Unwound, and many more. Then I’ll look at Rise Records and cringe. Rise has grown to become symbolic of everything that I hate within today's modern post-hardcore. Abundant use of computer plug ins and samples has ensured that everything and everyone sound sterile and samey. Even if the sounds were more analog, the songwriting would still vary from being uninspired to just awful. On top of these shockingly bland soundscapes, the artists seldom have anything to say. Either they touch on really banal subject matter or they pick only the most basic lines from a book called “Depression, Anger, & Existentialism for Dummies.”
Enter Oceana circa 2009 (now indie/electronic/experimental group Polyenso). Where I largely had a falling out with the sounds produced by Rise in the latter half of high school, Birth.Eater is an album that I can still come back to and enjoy wholeheartedly. How did the band that made the Tide come out with this? The evolution is unreal. Where on standard Rise fare that was The Tide, tired water tropes are further beaten to death, Birth.Eater sees Oceana tapping into something much more somber and urgent.
We see unusual topics such as coming to terms with one's status as a failed abortion in songs like “Dead Speaker”, where the sung vocals sometimes portray a mother deteriorating because of her pregnancy and the screamed vocals portray a love-starved fetus. Religious themes are also explored in a more abstract and mature fashion than most. Natal themes are expectedly heavily ingrained into this album, as well themes of a son dealing with neglect from his mother. Sexual and reproductive undertones may also be present, but far less overtly. Furthermore, the band manage to not be ruined by the production of Cameron Mizell, who has produced a myriad number of garbage scene bands. The drop tuned guitars provide a strong base, and the drums are a very commanding force. The guitarist dial in a large, bassy tone that almost seems more appropriate for post-metal than post-hardcore.
Yes, the sound is often too clean, but the emotion is clear in the performances. From Brendan Taulbee’s choked barks and hymn-like croons to guitarists Alex Schultz and Justin Burns’ dismal but tuneful guitar work to Denny Agoto’s excellent, often tom-focused drumming. Sadly, Robert Davis may as well not exist, because there is little evidence of his bass anywhere on the album.
The album is bathed in this dusky, dismal fog that lends to a strong atmosphere. This is not a happy album. Sure, it’s not really going toe to toe with the most depressive of black metal or emo or folk or anything really, but it’s impressive given the context. With this new darkness comes songwriting chops. This manifests in the band trying on more epic, post metal and post rock influences. The riffs and choruses here are largely untouched by both their previous incarnation and other Rise bands. They show a penchant for layered soundscapes with bittersweet synth accented clean vocals and chillingly layered screams towards the end on the opener “Breather II”. There are synths throughout the album, but they are only used tastefully and never detract from the songs. There are no trite, stupid EDM breaks for a million miles.
From “Breather” we are introduced to the strategically selected single “The Family Disease”. While easily one of the most accessible cuts, the performances remain strong and Taulbee demonstrates serviceable lyrical talent. While most of the lyrics tend to be abstract, the visceral diction alone is enough to draw emotion from the listener.
There are bevy of stellar musical moments here. Bouncy melodies litter the duration of “In Birth”. Muscular hardcore and metalcore tinged riffs can be found in songs such as "The Constrictor". “Boneworks” has similar styled riffage, but with the addition of ambient leads. “Mother Love” benefits from excellent rhythmic chording sections.
While there are no outright lulls in the tracklisting, the album’s second half is undoubtedly the strongest. “The Abortion Plan” is a longer track that features an anthemic mouthful of an ever flowing chorus. “Boa” is a romp of a track that begins with raucous screams and melodic riffing before smoothly transitioning into a fairly generic 2009 metalcore riff, but this is soon remedied by the barrage of heavy riffs and massive chords that proceed. The heaviness of this song, especially the stylish groove that bookends it, lend it to being a highlight of the album.
“I Came As Dust” boasts soaring cleans interspersed with brief shots of metallic heaviness as well as what may be the best chorus of the album.
“How could you bend your fears?
The day was reduced to tears.
Your stomach was armor,
an aid that could save your life.”
The worn out, sexy inflections and vocal patterns make these lines gold.
Next comes The Spine Collection. Oh boy. This is the song. Some of the album’s strongest instrumentation is in this song as evidenced by the very unique and catchy riffing of the intro and mournful, desolate verses. The passionate vocal delivery and deftly delivered drum fills help this song stand tall above most of the tracklist. However, he song may get bogged down by intense melodrama in the clean breaks for some, with lyrics such as:
"And I'll never find a way to be happy,
and there's no one here,
there's no one here that's like me."
But there's a high school sophomore in us all that eats that stuff up…
Last comes the closer “Devil Walk, God Walk” and what a closer it is, clearly the most thoroughly realized and adventurous song on the album. I feel that this track represents our son figure freeing himself from his chains of neglect and doubt, for better or worse. This sprawling, dreary piece introduces itself with hypnotic vocal melodies, amplifying the aforementioned hymn-liked qualities even more. This crescendos to a heavy, barked section that is used to deadly effectiveness.
We’ll be left seedless men!”
After more hymning (it seriously feels like a church song) and a careful vocal crescendo, we are treated to the best, possibly most monolithic riff of the album. In this massive, dismal moment, you realize the talent the band is working with, and you see that they certainly know what to play at the right time. We are given around three minutes of respite with a captivating reverb drenched guitar line, atmospheric synths, and ambient female vocals. Finally, we are lead out by a joyous sing along that fades into peaceful silence.
What I take from this album is that it was a musical catharsis for Brendan Taulbee, much like Everything You Ever Wanted was for Glassjaw’s Daryl Palumbo or Jane Doe was supposed to be for Converge’s Jacob Bannon. While this album could never hope to touch those releases in terms of sheer quality, it is still a worthwhile effort in its own right. I’m under the impression that Taulbee had a lot of emotions to work through and laid it all out to bare in this album. Both the art and, hopefully, the man benefit from this. Perhaps some of the uncomfortable candidness and vulnerability of this release contributed to the abandonment of the Oceana name and sound.
If you like Rise stuff, make your price go up. Listen to this. If you don't, you should give it a shot. Simply put, it’s far and away the best you’re going to get out of Rise.