Review Summary: don't keep pushing familiar drugs
What a strange, winding road back to greatness Alexisonfire took. The seemingly unstoppable juggernaut of top-tier post-hardcore derailed themselves, following Crisis
with the uninspired, half-hearted snooze Old Crows / Young Cardinals
. The boys quickly course corrected with the truly insane Nick Cave-meets-blues-rock-inspired Dogs Blood
, then left the scene hanging for nearly a decade on an underwhelming acoustic EP. The pulse quickening news of their reunion was dulled by two deeply okay singles "Familiar Drugs" and "Complicit", only for the stunning "Season of the Flood" to finally perfect the alchemical mixture that makes Alexisonfire one of a kind.
In many ways that song's ambient slowburn feels like a template for Otherness
, an album which takes the strange combination of blues and gospel the band found on Dogs Blood
and "The Northern" and seasons it with a dash of throwback stoner rock. It's a fascinating and unexpected choice, one where the influence of Wade MacNeil's Dooms Children is clearly felt, and which sees George Pettit's phlegmatic scream take more of a backseat behind Dallas Green's masterful voice, which defying all odds just gets better with every passing year. It's clear that Otherness
was made on the band's own time and dime, with no pressure from a label or any outside force. There's just a camaraderie and chemistry that was missing on Old Crows / Young Cardinals
and to an extent the largely Dallas-less Dogs Blood
, one that sounds like a veteran band falling in love with playing music and being friends again.
This newfound comfort outside the comfort zone yields some truly spectacular results in the album's staggering midsection. "Blue Spade" is the most obvious group effort on the album, complete with a killer set of lyrics by Chris Steele, making his writing debut. "Dark Night of the Soul", perhaps the closest we'll get to the sound of Dogs Blood
mixed with Dallas' influence, boasts a dreamy psychedelic bridge which could be inserted into the new Porcupine Tree album with little alteration. And the gorgeous ambient-leaning "Mistaken Information" is a duet between Dallas and George, both on clean vocals, which boasts a phenomenal sense of harmony between these two longtime co-vocalists who have never mixed their voices in quite this way before.
Even when the album leans towards either extreme of the band's sound, the results land. Between the City and Colour-feeling "Sans Soleil" (ironically credited entirely to Wade) and the throwback Crisis
sound of "Conditional Love" and "Reverse the Curse", the band cover all the major landmarks of their sound without ever feeling obligatory. The only moment on Otherness
in which its haunting-slash-comforting atmosphere is shattered is the baffling "Survivor's Guilt", a rare misstep boasting an introduction that seems expressly designed to undermine the lingering beauty of "Mistaken Information". Even this, to an extent feels purposeful, as does the album's lo-fi, garagey production, which can frequently run the gamut between frustrating and fitting. Otherness
is not the Alexisonfire we grew up with and loved, which is for the best given the results when they tried to force their music into that formula. But that same band, weathered by love, loss and experience, finding their way back to one another with the benefit of all the changes they'd undergone? That might sound something like this.