Review Summary: Taking the mask away.
Introducing a previously hidden, different part of yourself to those around you can be difficult. It leaves you vulnerable and exposed, especially when the side of yourself you have already revealed is looked upon with amicable elation. Spencer Chamberlain, known most famously as the vocalist of metal titans Underoath, possibly felt this way when he released his (at-the-time) new project Broken Compass
under the name of Sleepwave.
For starters, Sleepwave isn’t a metal band, not primarily. There’s definitely some metal-inspired moments on this album, but largely, the record is an amalgamation of 90s-inspired, riff-driven industrial rock, ambient ballads, and a sprinkle of alternative metal. While it would’ve been nice to see some of the tracks genre-blend, rather than fit rather easily in the aforementioned genres, Broken Compass
is an awesome collection of songs.
The electric guitar work is tight and punchy, and though not the most technical, carves its way into the sonic pallet of the listener’s brain. The bass holds its own as well, providing a thick backdrop to the riffs when it needs to, but also pushing forward frequently enough to be well heard and appreciated in the mix. As for the drums, they are an absolute highlight: they groove, chill, and blast away throughout the journey. Chamberlain, who at this point in his public career hadn’t done near this much singing, is a surprisingly proficient vocalist; his voice recalls the grit and struggle of the early grunge days, yet also rings out with a clear melodic glint. What few screams that are here are vicious and decimating. The production, perhaps as expected, is absolutely stellar. Every instrument, every sonic element, is easily recognizable and shimmers with a clean, but not obsessively sterile, sheen.
These ingredients are perfectly well and good, but without the following two, this record would be nothing more than a slightly above average rock effort. Let’s begin with the electronics. Broken Compass
is perhaps one of the best albums at blending traditional rock elements with electronica. The album is full of little hidden, technological goodies that make it a fantastic headphone album, but the appeal goes beyond that. The electronics serve to drag the listener into the world of Broken Compass
, whether by wooing them into a lovelorn state, pushing them into an adrenaline-fueled boxing match, yanking them eagerly onto the dance floor, or simply allowing them to reflect. They are exceedingly pleasing, both on an aesthetic and a deeper level.
Speaking of a deeper level, the texts throughout the project are truly something else. This is an unmistakably impactful, dark journey through pain, loss, hope, hatred, confusion, and ultimately redemption. It isn’t a concept album, and you don’t have to listen to it as one, but it isn’t hard to examine the lyrics as a whole and construct a story out of them. There are only a couple times where the lyrics get obvious and it's difficult to interpret them as anything else but what they clearly are; most of the time, the listener is left to decide how and why this record applies to them personally. Another creative touch is the way certain phrases, either from other tracks on the album or Spencer’s past work with Underoath, pop into different tracks. This provides a sense of cohesion and unity that only serves to further drag the listener into the atmosphere of Compass
isn’t a perfect album; as hinted at, its largest problem is a lack of innovation in the structuring of these tracks. It would’ve been nice to see a track that blended the heavier moments, the lighter moments, and the mid-tempo moments all-together, and it gets close in the title track but doesn't ever quite hit the mark. Also, while some tracks spice up the traditional song structure quite nicely and provide a kind of comfortable unfamiliarity, most stick to the standard to the letter.
Even with those negatives, Broken Compass will easily satisfy lovers of 90s grunge, industrial rock enthusiasts, or alt metal-heads on a sonic level. But on a lyrical level, the emotionally-charged stories presented here make Broken Compass an easily recommended journey for any lover of honest, no-holds-barred writing. Mr. Chamberlain, nice to meet the other half of you, now it’s about time for another Sleepwave project.
THE EP(Songs that best represent what the album has to offer):
“Rock And Roll Is Dead And So Am I”
“Inner Body Revolt”
“Hold Up My Head”
“Through The Looking Glass”