Review Summary: Alter BATS
Like a lot of math rock, BATS' math-inspired post-hardcore has always been a bit precarious. With as many moving parts as the average BATS track has had, they've needed to keep a tight grasp on melody, harmony, and chord progressions to make sure all the parts cohered into a satisfying song with just the right mood. Their 2009 debut Red in Tooth and Claw
was remarkable, in part, for how often they struck the perfect balance for a truly captivating experience ("Gamma Ray Burst: Second Date," "The Cruel Sea," the first half of "Andrew Wiles"), but the album also contained a couple moments ("Lord Blakeney's Arm," the second half of "Andrew Wiles") where the balance fell apart, resulting in enjoyable enough music that nonetheless felt too off-kilter. Their sophomore effort, The Sleep of Reason
, showed much more consistency in the balance of their sound, but it was never quite as transcendent as a song like "Gamma Ray Burst," and I found myself wondering if they could showcase the true potential of their sound without succumbing to its pitfalls.
In the seven years since The Sleep of Reason
, BATS must have somehow forgotten everything they knew about crafting complex compositions with engaging progressions, because Alter Nature
is almost entirely pitfalls. Rather than interweaving to build sublime harmonies, the guitars on Alter Nature
mostly play in the realm of the dissonant, but seem bizarrely reluctant to do so. Tracks like "Christian Science" and "The Call of Cthulhu" are built almost like noise rock songs, as though composed for Sisterworld
or You Won't Get What You Want
. But BATS don't have the same commitment to the noise that Liars and Daughters do, making the dissonance feel less like a deliberate change of direction and more like a failure to do what BATS do best. "Christian Science" may be built like noise rock, but it doesn't sound like noise rock; it sounds like some guitar notes strung together into riffs, without any particular
desired mood or raison d'etre.
Still, there are some enjoyable moments on Alter Nature
, and unsurprisingly, they're the moments that sound the most like old BATS. "In the Court of the CRISPR King" centers around an elegantly melodic interplay of vocals that lifts the song as a whole. "Dyson Sphere" offers a tantalizing glimpse of what BATS could have sounded like if they had made a natural progression from The Sleep of Reason
, with a trademark duel between melodic and harsh vocals, guitars that switch between post-hardcore aggression and post-rock ethereality, and a captivatingly chaotic saxophone solo at the song's climax. But these moments are rare. The vast majority of Alter Nature
is a disappointing realization that BATS' talent and ingenuity have backslid since The Sleep of Reason
, and they have much further to go if they want to reach the heights of "Gamma Ray Burst" again.