Written by: TL on 25/11/2014 17:03:31

While it has only existed a short time, Blue Swan Records has quickly established itself as a highly specialised label, primarily represenating Western American bands that are in one way or another affiliated with label boss and Dance Gavin Dance guitarist Will Swan. One of the label's first protegés are Stolas from Las Vegas, whose 2013 debut "Living Creatures" was thrown into the limelight with vocalists from each of Blue Swan's other bands lending their fame and talent to boost the record's exposure. That was then however, and now, a year later, Stolas are back already with their sophomore album "Allomaternal", on which the Nevada quartet attempt to handle themselves unaided.

As almost goes without saying for a Blue Swan band at this point, Stolas have masterful technical skills, and their music does what it can to stretch the borders of post-hardcore in ever more progressive and experimental directions. The average song on "Allomaternal" thus clocks in at around five minutes of length, twisting and turning with little regard for predictable song composition and throwing facemelting guitar scales and raspy screaming at the listener in abrupt bursts. As such the band is similar to both label mates A Lot Like Birds and Hail The Sun, while likely also drawing on inspiration from genre pioneers The Mars Volta.

"Allomaternal" however, is a busier, more chaotic record than Hail The Sun's recent "Wake" for instance (you could fairly say it has slightly better production as well), yet even though three out of four members contribute vocals, both drawn out cleans and frantic screams, neither type of voice has the character of say a Donovan Melero or a Jon Mess. At least it doesn't feel that way, but this could well be a consequence of Stolas' underdeveloped ability at writing songs that justify their deviation from more obvious compositions. Simply put, there are long stretches of "Allomaternal" in which the finger-breaking note-patterns and unpredictable transitions make the various parts of the songs feel disconnected and power-drained as a result.

The best bits on the record are found in "Solunar", "Claw Point" and "Allokinetic". "Claw Point" has the single best movement of the record when a wild opening settles down, only to build up a cliff off of which the instruments drop away from under the most powerful vocal outburst on the record, going "If you stick by my side, we'll be fine for a while!". "Solunar" is probably a more wholesome listen overall though, giving the clean vocals more exclusive room to function, which adds more coherent melodious elements on top of the instrumental parts that elsewhere seem to range between too complicated for their own good, or too ambient in the gaps between bars in which the complexity is being shown off.

The story of "Allomaternal" and of Stolas career so far can be read between those lines: The band has the technical chops to play things that will make your hands seize up and your mind show a blue screen if you even think of playing it yourself, but they are considerably behind their Blue Swan colleagues in terms of knitting their ideas into progressions that flow engagingly without feelings of filler. Theirs is an acquired taste then, as those that are out to be dazzled by stunningly complex instrumental parts can absolutely have their ears singed by a highlight such as closing track "Allokinetic", but those that hold experimental bands to a higher responsibility - namely that experimentation should always be a boost to good songwriting more than a hindrance - for them "Allomaternal" would need to be as spectacular as it wants to be, yet is as a whole too homogenous, too impenetrable and too inconsistent - Which would perhaps seem like a groundless verdict, if it wasn't for the bands on the very same roster, that have orchestrated their chaotic impulses much better. You could even say, that it's not so much what Stolas are doing wrong, it's just what similar bands to them are still doing better.

Download: Solunar, Allokinetic, Claw Point
For The Fans Of: A Lot Like Birds, Hail The Sun, The Mars Volta, Dance Gavin Dance

Release date 07.11.2014
Blue Swan Records

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