Review Summary: Everything Is Contrary
As Cities Burn have been one of my favorite bands for years. Ever since I first heard the opening notes of "Into The Sea" I was hooked. The band's blend of progressive-tinged indie rock and post-hardcore created a truly unique sound that blew my fifteen year old mind. The band also crafted one of my top ten favorite albums of all time with Come Now Sleep. The band's intricate music and complex lyrical themes made them truly stand out among the other "christian" bands they were associated with.
When it was announced that the band had reformed, I was highly skeptical. The band had broken up three times prior, the most recent of which was due to a very public feud between vocalist Cody Bonnette and drummer Aaron Lunsford. The band by Lunsford's own admission was a toxic environment and not sustainable. Somehow though after a year long hiatus, the band signed to Equal Vision Records and released their first record in ten years, and first album in fifteen years with original vocalist JT Bonnette.
If listeners were expecting JT's return to mean the band was banking on nostalgia and was making a sequel to their debut Son I Loved You At Your Darkest, they are going to be disappointed. The band has evolved so far past their metalcore debut that going back to that wouldn't be genuine. Scream Through The Walls is also not just Come Now Sleep or Hell or High water made over. The album is its own.
The music on Scream Through The Walls sounds like mostly a continuation from their previous work. The guitars from Cody and new guitarist Hunter Walls still play a balance of progressive rock and post-hardcore with intricate leads that never seem flashy or over indulgent. The guitars never get into breakdown territory, but the reintroduction of JT definitely lets the band play some heavier passages throughout the album and even step into noise rock territory.
The drumming of Aaron Lunsford is amazing as always to build a great backbone for the epic battle of beauty and sheer chaos of the music. While Stephen Keech (of Haste The Day fame) never shines with his bass lines, he never slips up and keeps up with Aaron's drums very well. The biggest addition is the vast amount of programming and key effects from Cody and JT that are used on the record to amp up the feelings of chaos and haunting isolation that the album plays with.
Both Bonnette brothers lend vocals to the record, with Cody handling cleans and JT backing up with screams. Cody is the focal point, but the addition of JT's harsh vocals creates a ying and yang feeling that is helped by the two trading lines back and forth. Cody sounds amazing as always as his voice slides smoothly over the melodic passages and JT sounds raspier and more refined than he did all those years ago. JT's commanding bark and shrill yell act as the perfect counter balance to Cody's angelic cleans.
Of course as with all As Cities Burn albums, the focal point is the lyrics. The band has always had a knack for thoughtful lyrics, especially after Cody took over. CNS and HoHW showed a band in the christian music scene that wasn't afraid to ask hard questions. Bands like Emery and Underoath had songs about doubts sure, but they would never make songs about questioning hell and openly talking about drinking and smoking.
On Scream Through The Walls the band may be at their most indirect and cryptic they've ever been. The lyrics are less directly religious and lean more into politics than they used to. If one were to follow the members on twitter, they would not be shocked by this as the members are very vocal about their politics on social media. The overarching lyrical theme of the record is mental illness and, as the band says on the album, how "everything is contrary." This idea is repeated over and over again to drive the point home. The album acts as almost a critique of post-modernism by poking at the idea there being no truth and how it makes everything pointless. This mixed with the aforementioned tracks about Cody's well documented mental health issues, and the lyrics read like the diary of a man slowly losing himself in a world of post-modern nothingness.
With the cryptic lyrics matched with the abrasive and almost schizophrenic musicianship, the album can almost seem incomprehensible. The album is a hard listen at points with distracting production effects and weird trope of having Cody end a line with a word and JT starting the next line with the same word. The album has not been well received by most publications and has been labeled as a thrown together mess. While I can see the argument,I feel the noisy and abrasive tone of the record was intentional and works with the main message of the record.
This album may not live up to the heights of Come Now Sleep, but it shows the evolution of the band's sound and a renewed passion for the band to continue. However long it may be before the band inevitably implodes again, I'm glad that they managed to get it together long enough to craft another great record to add to their catalog.