New Bodies

Written by: TL on 24/01/2014 19:30:39

Back around circa 2007, Underoath were all but the crowned kings of an increasingly crowded post-hardcore scene, in which bands left and right were setting new rules for mixing clean singing and screaming, melody and dissonance. And while plenty of bands kept it about the music, Underoath's success as an openly Christian band in a metallic genre helped pave the way for similarly religious groups, among them North Carolina's Akissforjersey. As the genre soon started to dissipate however, and all but the most resilient bands faded out, Akissforjersey briefly went dark after the release of 2008's sophomore "Victims", prompting most to consider them done along with that chapter in the music scene.

Not so fast though - The band actually started displaying signs of life already one year later, and while long waits between updates have made it seem like a third AKFJ full length was about as likely as a third Saosin counterpart, some way, some-magical-how, the band is now back to open 2014 with "New Bodies", a record that - perhaps most surprisingly - picks up pretty much where "Victims" left off...

- Before we get on with that though, allow me to take a moment to at least acknowledge the following: Firstly the production of "New Bodies" is, for the lack of a better term, plain. The instruments are mixed fairly enough, but I feel that particularly the clean vocals could have been allowed to slice through more strikingly, and while I'd rather have this than the glossy and artificial sheen other post-hardcore bands have soaked in over the past few years, I feel that producer Sid Menon should have pushed the extremes of the record more from his chair, allowing more punch to the low end and more shine to the leading guitar melodies. Moreover, the harsh vocals are hopeless, coming through all muffled and monotone in a way that would make most amateur home growlers shake their heads in 2014. They're just solid enough to not be distracting, but if you pay attention to them individually it's hard to not feel a bit disappointed.

Now, the reason I get those negatives out of the way up front is because what I really want to talk about is that mostly every other aspect of "New Bodies" is brilliant. Plain and simple. Perhaps it's because Akissforjersey's hardcore parts actually sound like the members really like good hardcore music and aren't just recycling simple breakdowns. Perhaps it's because of their cascading guitar melodies and the Tilian Pearson-esque high cleans of singer Zach Dawson. Or perhaps it's because they integrate these two extremes with a Misery Signals-ish sensibility that makes the unseemly coupling feel coherent and dynamic at the same time, in a manner that the lego-block composers of newer bands ought to wish they understood.

Contrary to the progressive leanings of a Misery Signals or an Underoath however, Akissforjersey's compositions are efficient and to the point even while being seamless. Opener "War" starts with harrowing discord before settling down to eerie melodies and assertive clean vocals and then disintegrating into a midsection that even a self-professed emo like myself thinks goes hard. There's also a stint of hardcore punk tempo, which is revisited in the opening to "The Sound Of Revolution", which sounds as excited for its own hardcore elements as something from Silverstein's "Short Songs" record, especially when it moves into a dirty groove towards the end of the song.

Proceeding over its middle the album trades in some of the fast paced urgency of its beginning to explore slower tempos of both more grinding and more anthemic variety. At track five "New Bodies" evolves from a chugtastic beginning to a sparkling chorus, then a "cleans over breakdown" bridge that ISSUES would've envied, before the closing round of choruses sees the lead guitar switch notes to momentarily sound entropic before settling back into its previous pattern. This song is only topped by "Bones", which sends a choral refrain into bleak, tail-spinning chords before the cleans resurrect things atop a calmly melancholic lead, which is also flipped into an agitated, ceremonial version of itself before coming back towards the end of the song.

Those are the top layers of a record that has many delicious little compositional details to offer, chiming and chugging around a rare, organic-sounding clean vocal performance and suggesting a touch of elegance that not too many bands in the surrounding genre landscape command. Just don't mistake the notion of elegance as meaning "New Bodies" doesn't pack a punch. If you do that, just listen to "DeathEater" and tell me that especially the bass towards the end does not sound downright mean. Yet although I get the feeling that the band has aimed deliberately for a more bare-boned, realistic sound, I still think it's almost heartbreaking that the production and the growls are as unspectacular as is the case. The heavy/pretty blend is otherwise so dead-on that while you can't but recognise Akissforjersey for a surprisingly strong comeback, you're also left with the feeling of how much more could have been. That said, "New Bodies" still does it for me, to the point where lyricism that at times rivals My Epic for religiousness still does not bother me. Just preach brother Dawson, preach.


Download: New Bodies, Bones, War, The Sound Of Revolution
For The Fans Of: Blessthefall, Underoath, Erra
Listen: facebook.com/akissforjersey

Release Date 21.01.2014
InVogue Records

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