Gwen Stacy

The Life I Know

Written by: PP on 28/02/2008 04:16:04

Gwen Stacy is the kind of band scenesters absolutely love to hate. They\'ve got massive breakdowns, one screaming, semi-growling vocalist, and all the ingredients you\'ll find in any given modern hardcore/metalcore fusion release today. Therefore it isn\'t surprising that they\'ve received so much (undeserved) hate in reviews across the web of their sophomore album \"The Life I Know\", but once again it leads me to think that most magazines operating on the web are either a) partially deaf or b) too keen to appeal to their user base to actually write genuine and honest reviews. Here in we try to do the latter to a great extent. If one of my reviewers really likes an album, he is to grade it accordingly. Likewise, if we dislike an album, we\'ll grade it down, even if it means going against the general consensus of the readers. So here\'s a partially biased review of Gwen Stacy\'s sophomore album, and I say biased because it pretty much hasn\'t left my CD player since I begun listening to it in early January.

At first listen, it\'s easy to find yourself agreeing with the critics. After all, Gwen Stacy does have a Norma Jean / The Chariot styled screamer-growler, a bassist assigned to the clean vocals, and punishing breakdowns coupled with multiple repeated gang screams such as \"THIS IS FAMILY, THIS IS PURE\". But there\'s much more to the record than meets the ear.

Take the opening track \"The Path To Certainty\" for instance, which introduces us to the sound of Gwen Stacy perfectly. A high tempo punk rhythm kicks the song off with metallic riffs and \"DOWN, DOWN AGAIN\" screams from the vocalist Cole Wallace. 28 seconds to the song the first breakdown murders you, instruments go on repeat-kill-repeat mode and Wallace jumps in with a question \"WHERE ARE YOU NOW?\" before we spend the next fifteen or so seconds trend moshing (hardcore dancing) the lives out of each other. The instruments then slow down a bit into UnderOATH \"They\'re Only Chasing Safety\"-era style glittering chords to give room for bassist Brent Schindler\'s clean vocals that could just as well be sung by the guy from Knife Of Liberty. By the end of the song we\'ve established that Gwen Stacy take the best bits of the modern hardcore presented in The Chariot\'s and Norma Jean\'s latest recordings and combines those with classic sounds from UnderOATH and Knife Of Liberty albums. And they do it bloody well.

\"Challenger Pt. 2\" has the biggest breakdown thus far on the record, where all instruments pause aside from the occasional deeply down tuned guitar slab, leaving plenty of space for hardcore dancers to destroy the bits of their rooms that are still intact after the insane beginning of the album. Vocalist Wallace\'s repeated vocals instantly remind you of The Chariot, but that doesn\'t matter because he\'s clearly in his element, screaming with the kind of power and conviction very few vocalists of his style ever reach.

But we have to wait until the fantastic \"If We Live Right, We Can\'t Die Wrong\" for Wallace to show his utterly magnificent vocal abilities. The song starts out with a much more melodic riff than the others and has more power chords than sweet licks. Already in the first verse he\'s demonstrating his capability of keeping his screams entirely decipherable even while moving up and down slightly in range, but wait till the chorus. The tempo is kicked up a notch as he enters with \"Still I know if I / close my eyes and silence my arms(?) / I can hear a voice / quietly calling my NAMEEE\" with so much power and rage that it bewilders the listener instantly. Immediately after he growls the last word the clean vocals kick in just at the right place to initiate an insane singalong fest certain to happen at a live environment.

In the next few songs the band focuses more on contrasting the layered UnderOATH guitar melody with even more breakdowns than before. The breaks in instruments become bigger and longer, allowing the crunch of each note to completely crush the listener as he\'s listening to more raw, emotion filled scream-repeats a la Norma Jean. By this point I\'m of course shitting my pants over how this record is pushing every single right button on me, just the same way as \"Redeemer\" did in 2006.

Just when you thought it couldn\'t get any better, the band launches into their absolute masterpiece of a track, the seven minute long \"Sleeping In The Train Yard\". Where the other songs on the album focus on making the biggest noise possible to start out with and then morph that into lethal breakdowns, this song does the opposite. Starting out slowly with a gentle guitar line, more and more instruments are added in progressively as the build up gets bigger.. and bigger.. and bigger.. and bigger.. and bigger.. At this point the guitar is playing intricate, layered melodic structures surely causing wet dreams to any UnderOATH fan. And then it happens; Wallace shows why he should be considered as one of the best vocalists in the genre. The whole soundscape shatters in an instant with one monumental \"WELCOOOOOMMEEEEEEEE\" scream, followed by downward scaling guitars. This is the single best part of this album, the peak, the climax, call it whatever you will, but I will call it a freaking masterpiece. The way everything has been building up this moment is perfect in every way, and the way it is executed is perfect as well. Wallace then continues to scream \"THIS IS THE PLACE OF REAL NIGHTMAREEEES\", slowly working the story into the context of the massive buildup/breakdown contrast that the whole song is about. He continues: \"Here is a man / a man that stepped before me / and I could smell / hell on his breath\" before his best vocal (and lyrical) performance of the whole record, the repetitions of \"and his eyes.. / his eyes.. / HIS EYEEEEEEEEEEES\", and the final climax of the song, \"CUT RIGHT THROUGH MEEEEE, HIS SMILE REEKS OF DEATH\". There\'s more to the disturbing story of this man on the other side of the train tracks that I\'ll let you discover on your own, but let me just tell you the story is one of the most intriguing and touching I\'ve heard in a long time. Couple that with the whole band overdoing their capability instrumentally, and you\'ve got a song that\'ll be my certain nomination for the best song written in 2008.

After the climax we\'ve got some more moshing to do and another album highlight in \"Gone Fishing, See You In A Year\", but for the sake of keeping this review at a readable length, I\'ll just leave it for you to discover on your own. I\'m sure you\'ve got the point already. Perhaps you can\'t credit Gwen Stacy for originality but there\'s no need to re-invent the wheel if you can improve on its design somehow. If albums like \"Redeemer\" and \"The Fiancee\" have meant a lot to you in the past, then meet their grandfather. \"The Life I Know\" is one of the best albums this year, which is why you shouldn\'t listen to the critics and skip it simply because it\'s suddenly cool to hate hardcore/metalcore bands. Get your fists of fury ready, inflict maximum damage and remember what Gwen Stacy tells you in \"The Fear In Your Eyes\": \"I may not make it back but I\'ll make sure someone never forgets me\"


Download: Sleeping In The Train Yard, Gone Fishing See You In A Year, If We Live Right We Can\'t Die Wrong
For the fans of: Norma Jean, The Chariot, UnderOATH
Listen: Myspace
Buy: iTunes

Release date 05.02.2008
Ferret Records

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