Review Summary: Burnt to a crisp.
Everyone appreciates a tale that concludes on a happy ending. Batman got to save the city, yeet the bomb away, and strut off with his dream girl. Well done there, lad. Alice poked around in a mirror, sh*t went sideways (kinda literally), but she got crowned a queen and woosh
made it back home. Good for her! But real life ain’t fiction, and some narratives are destined for a train collision of ugly fates. Sure, it may start with promise, but that’s only a prelude to a rug-pull of Shyamalan “the grass is evil!” proportions. Case in point: Acres’ self-titled EP and subsequent sequel Solace
were potent blends of post-hardcore and emo, nailing the Devil Sold His Soul balance of beautiful leads and passionate vocal performances, building up tangible excitement in the underground—but that was a decade ago. What happened since then could only be described as a gradual hype-death of missed expectations. The cracks were first observed in the too-safe In Sickness and Health
—the gang’s identity was tweaked only by adding shaky clean vocals and increasingly vapid lyrics—they widened in Smoke and Decay
, and by the time long-awaited debut LP Lonely World
emerged, any impact made by the group was a dull thud at best. A relatable style had been stripped down to a basic approach that lacked range, smoothed over harsh edges for age-old tropes, and began forfeiting refinement in favor of tasteless pop bombast. This was a quartet that initially dazzled with their relatable, soul-bearing poetry, uplifting melodies, and delicate post-rock-esque structures, yet here now were they stood in the midst of every 2010s pop-core cliché that could be plucked from a hat.
How did we get here?
The story is nothing new, really. As is so often the case when bands engineer a significant transformation, the issue at hand is that of execution. And when regarding how Acres have maneuvered from their A Fragile Hope
roots to their present incarnation, the truth of the matter is that their newfound direction is one that has gruesomely massacred whatever genuine qualities composed their former foundation. The collective once possessed an elegant ambiance to their output courtesy of gentle textures, soothing timbres, and a knack for compositions that understood when to amplify the tension and when to let it recede, with each section buttressed by strong prose and a correspondingly evocative vocal performance. It provided records such as their original EPs considerable depth, encouraging exploration and allowing the melodies to flourish, all the while instilling each track with its own personality. The group’s inspirations may have been somewhat transparent, but never in a manner that distracted from their quality songwriting. Second proper release Burning Throne
contains precisely none of these traits. Where the likes of Solace
were subtle, it is nauseatingly overblown; it has no comprehension of dynamics and instead maintains the same gear throughout the album, therefore subtracting substantial intrigue from the get-go. Where once a degree of unpredictability resided was replaced now by distressing linearity, with songs dependably following a set format that can never be deviated from under penalty of death. And where Acres once felt fresh, they now feel dated in a scene that has left their chosen road behind.
Okay, okay, backing up a second: why
is this all bad? Coletta trimmed post-hardcore for pop and reaped rewards; it’s a solid change of pace for any band looking to shake things up. In implementing this change, however, Acres failed to expand upon its possibilities, and rather opted for a streamlined route whose design becomes evident from opening tune “Nothing.” The title is apt; the track opens with gusto, using a distant melody to back hefty guitars, yet it eventually collapses into a tepid verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure that attempts to sell the song via an explosive refrain. The harsh vocals of yesteryear appear in an abrupt djent breakdown in the bridge, only to then simply repeat the refrain and end the track. No evolution occurs, no profound shift, no crescendo—Acres aim to be up front and poppy-as-hell, subduing any hint of authentic songcraft in favor of an archetypal sound that could sell tickets to a 2010 Warped Tour show. The subsequent title track copies this exact same formula and consequently features the same issues, employing unengaging singing and uncannily similar sections while the guitars, once capable of spellbinding riffs, perform the bare minimum so as to not interrupt cheesy synth contributions. Skip ahead to “Hold On” to observe another nothing-song that achieves nothing, possesses nothing of note, and blends into the pop-core already established in the record’s first minute—but hey, the song opens quietly
this time! Then “My Everything” tries the same thing, and again uses a hackneyed djenty-bounce-bros bridge that got stale eons ago. Then “Feel Anything” comes and I feel nothing because it’s all the same, and by “Into Flames” I am absolutely broken and I want my time back.
It is extremely insulting how static Acres’ latest effort is. If they’re not attempting to be a poor man’s Deftones a la the t/t or “My Everything,” half-heartedly inserting a slightly gaze-y vibe that fails to extend beyond practically non-existent riffs and a buzzing synth—this is not enough to be White Pony
for any concerned—they are lazily trudging through clichés that either come across as agonizingly boring or entirely out of place. To be generous, the Englanders still have a semblance of atmosphere that is boosted by a sturdy bass presence and lurking electronic influence, applying an almost indietronica aura that imbues a sense of grace. This immediately clashes with the group’s incessant inclusions of bargain-bin djent; the sound is thin, depriving listeners of any headbanging value, and their predictable nature causes the songwriting’s flaws to bubble to the surface. Essentially, Acres pulled a Vola—playing loud, minimalistic tunes where guitars are white noise at best, then tossing in a massive chorus or undercooked breakdown to sell the song. Couple of problems here: this forgoes any groundwork to lead to such moments, crippling any kind of journey or removing them entirely, therefore causing any *ahem* ‘heavy’ moments to sound forced, underdeveloped and unearned. It is no exaggeration to claim that a given song can describe the entirety of Burning Throne
on its own. The initial example was the opener, but single out “Into Flames” instead and the result is the same: linear arrangements that refuse to demonstrate progressions and exhibit no internal contrasts, which accentuates the overall flat output showcased here. The band is spinning a hamster wheel where the verses must be tedious, the chorus has to work overtime to accomplish anything
, and the band must sleepwalk until being booted up for a good ol’ B 0-0-0 U N C E session. Little, if anything is therefore memorable considering how empty the final product is.
In certain instances, a sufficiently strong refrain can salvage a tune, even when popped into a barebones presentation that offers a vocalist zero favors. For all its flaws, Sordid Pink’s debut walked away with a handful of carefree bangers in store courtesy of a vocal showing that worked overtime to add color to tracks. Though not necessarily bad, Acres’ singing contributions are nothing to write home about. Their genre-standard tone, insubstantial variety, and somewhat lacking higher register do not grant a mystical x-factor to make the record at all desirable. In particular, the absence of diversity kills any hopes of salvation; nothing separates “The Death Of Me” from “Lost In Our Own World” besides the latter being the more repetitive, and the bland, passionless offering on the title track is as forgettable as “When You’re Gone.” Even though the singing is no more or less guilty of going through the motions, its unexciting tone becomes a central culprit when put too forward in the mix. Whenever the guitars sound like they may be playing more than one note, such as in “Feel Anything,” the vocals dwarf them, and they are simply not unique enough to deserve a spotlight in a production this plastic in nature. This is to say nothing of lyrical offerings that are either distractingly poor (“Visual Hallucinations”) or so riddled with banalities they barely register (“When You’re Gone”). It’s a cavalcade of crippling issues: the songwriting is dull, stacking too much weight onto choruses and bridges, the bridges suck so the chorus has to be the end-all be-all, the singing is lame so the chorus f*cking dies, and the singing is augmented to where any atmosphere or engaging section is drowned out. Instantly, the duration of Burning Throne
, which runs at a seemingly fleeting 34 minutes, morphs into a brutally slow experience where everything blends together. Straightforward pop can be a riot, but when left unsupported by addicting leads or vocals, it inevitably falls apart.
To reiterate: the perpetrator here is not
the alteration of direction itself. These transitions, though maligned frequently, never have
to end up in this position. Gates ought to be the poster child of this when regarding emo-oriented projects; despite distancing themselves from the days of Bloom and Breathe
, their core identity has never been stronger, with the collective confidently wielding their control over moody post-rock tunes. The U.K. –core community on the whole managed to successfully pivot to a reserved, atmospheric style once Rolo Tomassi demonstrated its potential, which included the likes of Palm Reader, Svalbard, and to a lesser extent, Ithaca. Acres failed to sense the sea change around them and instead resurrected a sound in the twilight of its heyday, all while paradoxically not committing enough to it, vaguely clinging to hints of a harsher past that now sound immature. Aforementioned acts either established a balance or, in the case of an outfit a la Dayseeker, plunged headfirst into something different without restraint. Success was found there—but real life ain’t fiction, and not every story gets that coveted happy ending. Burning Throne
is the epitome of style absent of substance, and the style in question manages to come across as antiquated, dreary, and devoid of passion. In a genre that depends upon forging connections to listeners, that’s a veritable death sentence. When any given number resonates as a hollow, indistinguishable charisma void that could never be plucked out of a crowd, there’s on point searching for greater meaning.