Don’t look now, but post-hardcore is unstoppable right now. Sprouting from the seeds sown by At the Drive-In at the end of the 1990s, the genre has been gaining serious momentum among teenaged audiences, at a rate so alarmingly rapid that the trend has been resembling more and more the pop metal explosion from 1983 to 1989. Where 1987 was the year pop metal made its most striking dent on the album charts, 2006 appears to be a similar watershed year for post-hardcore, with bands like Hawthorne Heights, Underoath, and Atreyu coming within a hair of topping the charts, and My Chemical Romance poised to explode in popularity later this year, leaving most people over the age of 30 wondering just where the hell all these bands came from.
Like the hairsprayed and spandexed pop metal bands of the ‘80s, you’ve got to sort through a lot of dubiously talented, comb-over sporting crap to find the best post-hardcore music, as labels continue to saturate the market to cash in on the fad, but when you manage uncover the good stuff, like Thrice’s Vheissu, the Forecast’s In the Shadow of Two Gunmen, Underoath’s Define the Great Line, or Silverstein’s Discovering the Waterfront, it can be some of the most pleasing modern rock out there today. Well, get ready to add another band to that list, because with their third album, Canada’s rising post-hardcore stars Alexisonfire have leapfrogged its innumerable sound-alike peers, and now fully deserves to stand alongside Thrice as one of the very best bands the genre has to offer.
One of the most remarkable indie rock success stories in Canada, in spite of zero radio support and little attention from mainstream press, through constant touring Alexisonfire has cultivated a rabid following in their home country, their first two albums certifying gold in Canada. Unlike Thrice or Underoath, who have both started to incorporate more adventurous, post-rock-inspired sounds into their own music, Alexisonfire keeps things relatively simple, delivering aggressive, punk-fueled arrangements that underscore the vocal work of three distinctly different singers, and as 2004’s rousing single “Accidents” proved, the St. Catherines, Ontario band knows how to work that formula to audience-pleasing perfection. Crisis continues down the same road, but not without the odd detour or two, as the band’s melodies have become significantly stronger, and their arrangements are starting to branch out into slightly more ambitious territory.
Make no mistake, the blunt aggression of the new record is apparent from the outset, as “Drunks, Lovers, Sinners, and Saints” is close to straightforward hardcore punk, lead screamer George Pettit and singer/guitarist Wade MacNeil hollering lines that would be borderline hackneyed if the music wasn’t so contagious: “This is from our hearts / Sincerity over simple chords”. For all the propulsive tempos and buzzsaw guitars, though, the band’s ace in the hole remains singer/guitarist Dallas Green, whose smooth tenor voice, coupled with Pettit’s throat-shredding screams, forms arguably the best good cop/bad cop vocal tandem in post-hardcore today. While Green’s solo project, City and Colour, veered towards Chris Carrabba-like weepiness, paired with Pettit (and to a lesser extent MacNeil), he adds just the right amount of emotion to the band’s music, counterbalancing Pettit’s primal wails. It’s gotten to the point now where both Green and Pettit know exactly how much is too much of either style, and the duo hit all the right notes on such tracks as the poignant “This Could Be Anywhere in the World”, the catchy “Keep It on Wax”, and the double-time fury of “We Are the End”, complementing each other often brilliantly.
While teen melodrama still dominates Alexisonfire’s music, they continue to show signs of moving past the clichés, both lyrically and musically. “Mailbox Arson” has Pettit fantasizing about eliminating life’s hassles in blunt fashion (“When the smoke clears / You can consider us even”) as Green adds chiming guitar melodies that contrast from the song’s otherwise heavy arrangement. “Boiled Frogs” is one of several career highs on the CD, Pettit narrating a tale of an aging worker awaiting pension, while both Green and MacNeil sing in the first person (“My youth is slipping away”), both delivering their strongest vocal work on the album, the song climaxing with the band’s tried-and-true (but oh-so-effective) “whoa-oh” shout-along refrain. “Crisis” is their weightiest song to date, built around a nasty, Fugazi-derived riff, while the stately ballad “Rough Hands” packs the biggest surprise, concluding the album in stunning fashion, employing piano and minimal, goth-tinged guitar flourishes as Green and Pettit trade verses.
Having already debuted at number one in Canada, Alexisonfire is the most popular band in that country right now, and although the US market is a tougher one to crack, Crisis will go a long way to further widening the band’s perpetually growing audience south of the border. By adding more emotional resonance without compromising its underground roots, the band, all between the ages of 22 and 26, is approaching the top of its game, and while the majority of screamo and post-hardcore continues to careen towards self-parody and its eventual obliteration, Alexisonfire appears to be in it for the long haul.