Review Summary: Compassion revoked
As a waypoint in the roadmap of the band, A Different Shade Of Blue is somewhat extraordinary. It charts the rise of a band whose surge in popularity has propelled them from a basement act to a genuine attraction for fans of the genre, as noted for the chaos of their live shows as their pre-breakdown puppy impressions. Although many parallels can be drawn between ADSOB and their first full-length (some parallels so akin they're virtually reflections), one of the key aspects of the former that has been uprooted is that quintessential sense of amusement the pervaded the music itself. This is not to say that A Different Shade Of Blue is not an absolute barnstormer of an album with a fierce temperament and a gung-ho aesthetic; it most certainly is. However, there is a notable difference in the atmospherics and tone of the release in that this time around, it is far more brooding, sinister, and altogether heavier. This is not a criticism in the slightest; rather it is a commendation to the band for maintaining their trademark energy and signature style of songwriting, whilst developing the sound in a direction that is simultaneously different, but markedly the same.
Everything from the album artwork to the song titles encapsulates this revitalised ideal. Basslines are murkier and lower, the breakdowns are meatier and more in-keeping with the aesthetic of a sludge or beatdown act. Elsewhere, as is especially noteworthy on single track 'Mistakes Like Fractures', the content is more frantic, harnessing the energy the band are so well known for with breakneck riffing and toe-tapping grooves that stack throughout the track, but also intertwine in a surprisingly delicate way. These lighter touches emphasize a greater sense of theming that is present throughout the album, particularly in the more-frequent usage of instrumental segues and interludes. Tracks such as 'Trapped In The Grasp Of A Memory' 'By The Grave' and 'Road 23' are superb examples of the smoother (yet no-less raw) production style and stylistic choices that feed into the album's sinister atmosphere. A further example is the outro of 'In The Walls', which uses an audio clip lifted from the horror game P.T. to craft a sense of disquiet, backed by a mournful, deep tone that drenches the vocal byte in menace. This leads directly into the intro to 'Guided By The Moon', with its slow build and penetrating sense of dread that only escalates as the track continues. It is the use of such dynamics that fully flesh out the album and afford a truly malicious undertone that was not present on Laugh Tracks.
The vocal performance is the usual Knocked Loose fare, equal parts hoarse despair and shrill caterwauling. Guitarist Isaac Hale has been given some more time in the vocal spotlight this go round, however. Where his back-up vocals were largely previously used as a pick-up for frontman Bryan Garris's vocal breaks, now he is afforded ample opportunity to shine with deep, snarled verses and stomach-churningly guttural growls. In particular, the brief outro of 'And Still I Wander South' is a vicious barrage of instrumentation and vocal violence, and a knowing wink to a more death metal sound. His lows are also utilised on a number of other tracks, such as 'A Serpent's Touch', and very fleetingly on instrumental 'Forget Your Name', which is a grizzled, groovy little excursion that seems to stomp and trudge with the lethal uniformity of a Spartan phalanx. In many ways it is a distillation of the band's style, boiled down to as simple a format as can be: adrenaline-fuelled and furious, but also controlled and disarmingly catchy. The lyrical content is much the same as it has previously been, although now there is a clear emphasis on dark or ostensibly unpleasant emotional states to accentuate the album's tone. Such themes as loss, grief, misanthropy and betrayal are explored exhaustively, but occasionally the content shifts and KL display a surprisingly erudite sense of metaphor and existentialism, with some wonderfully evocative turns of phrase and descriptive passages throughout- albeit infrequently. In addition, the breakdowns on the release are showstoppers as always, but this time have the benefit of more considered and creative ascends preceding them, as demonstrated on 'And Still I Wander South''s cataclysmic final turn, and 'In The Walls''s bowel-clenching assault on the ears. All are buoyed by the stellar vocal performances, allowing the for the gut-punch of the drops to be consistently and appropriately aggressive, but seldom tedious or awkward.
In a review I have previously submitted to this site for the first Knocked Loose full-length, I asserted that, despite wanting for substance, the release was a battering vindication of modern hardcore sensibilities, with a stark, clear mission statement and a satisfying amount of longevity thanks to its lack of filler. In contrast to this, the truly wonderful thing about A Different Shade Of Blue is its maturity. The changes that have been made in the interim are not garish or ostentatious but serve as thoughtful, interesting adjustments that elevate the sound by providing extra musical contextualisation; a greater sense of theming and scope that deftly crafts a release using what worked about the band's formula, and impressively aggrandizing it with nuanced, careful additions. The topics on display are still nihilistic, even gothic at times, but these ides work in tandem with the newfound hostility and poisonous tone the band are peddling here. It is cut from the same cloth as Laugh Tracks but tailored into a notably more colourful, finer quality garment. The title 'A Different Shade Of Blue' is therefore very apt; the same route by a different means, the same colour but a deeper hue. It performs all the duties of KL's first release, with additional flair, brutality, and maturity. Laugh Tracks was a runaway train, replete with sharp banks, steep descends and cyclone speed; ADSOB adds in corkscrew rolls, vertical loops and rips the safety harnesses out of the carriage. It is a true blue rollercoaster, colossal in ambition and shattering in execution.