After a decade out of the game, post-hardcore outsiders Planes Mistaken For Stars reconvene to unleash their follow-up to 2006’s Mercy. New album Prey is a haunting and harrowing epic that sees the band add more grit and malice to their already harsh and jagged sound.
In an effort to get the creative juices flowing, lead singer Gared O’Donnell decided to hit the road. Rather than find enlightenment or inner peace, he found himself driving deeper and deeper into the crumbling heart of middle America. The tumbledown factories, worn-out towns and dilapidated motels he encountered provided inspiration for this dark album. These are presumably the same forgotten communities that are widely being credited for Donald Trump’s gatecrashing of the Oval Office. In that respect, the album has taken on a whole new relevance as O’Donnell and the rest of the band reach into the soul of America and pull out something black and rotten.
“Dementia Americana” starts things off in riotous fashion. It’s a taut and urgent tirade against those who take but never give with O’Donnell screaming the line “Taker / You faker / Motherfucker / Who the fuck are you?”. It’s an angry opening that could be viewed as being from anyone who feels profound frustration over the state in which America finds itself. It’s an incendiary start to the album that immediately proves the band have something meaningful to say.
The mood turns decidedly darker on “Til It Clicks”. It is a nightmarish, thickly packed song that sees the band open up their sound to create a tense and spacious backdrop using languid arpeggios. It comes as something of a surprise when the caustic guitars crash down, breaking the spell. “Riot Season”, then, is a barreling political anthem that has now taken on more resonance than ever. Musically, it is a more traditionally hardcore song, featuring a cavalcade of furious drumming and thick, muscular chords. Lines like “The Gears Went to Rust” and “They Steal Our Blood / They Grind Our Bones” alludes to the frustration felt by many of those living in the heartlands of America. “Fucking Tenderness” demonstrates their more melodic hardcore side with O’Donnell’s often unhinged-but-bruised vocals darting in and out of the mix.
The middle of the album is characterized by the band’s clever use of space, as they construct shadowy, creeping songs that crawl under your skin. On “She Who Steps”, swirling atmospheric guitars narrow and constrict before giving way to a chaotic ending of discordant and frenzied drumming. As a piece, it resembles the calmness of a flight before suddenly being hit by heavy turbulence. “Clean Up Mean” is an angst-ridden gem with O’Donnell howling the refrain of “I Don’t Want to Love You”. For the band to create something so dark but craft a chorus so hauntingly memorable is nothing short of remarkable.
There is no doubt that this album does not make for easy listening. It is designed to provoke an emotional response from the listener. “Black Rabbit” is a fragile and vulnerable acoustic number backed by subtle but poignant keyboard lines. At times, it is almost unbearably painful with the line “Dancing girls up and danced away” echoing the loss of jobs, liberty, freedom, take your pick. As a whole, the band seem to possess complete confidence in what they’re doing. Every member is on the same page and equally focused. “Pan In Flames” has a wailing guitar line that echoes O’Donnell’s pained howls. After all the heartfelt outpouring that proceeds it, little can prepare the listener for the majesty of epic album closer “Alabaster Cello”. The band trust their instincts and build an expansive soundscape featuring caterwauling guitars and off-kilter drumming. The closing chant of “Now We Wake….” takes on new meaning after recent political events.
This is an album that lives with you. There is a pervading sense of blackness. A murky density to proceedings, like slowly sinking in thick black mud. Musically, it is an enthralling and intoxicating rock album that is quick to drape its black cowl over you. The band have adeptly platted chaos, beauty, and noise together to make their best album to date. While it never explicitly addresses Trump and his supporters, it is impossible not to see it as a commentary on the resentment that (we are lead to believe) characterizes blue collar America. Similarly, many of the lyrics can be seen from the perspective of those who feel that the heart has somehow been torn out of the land of the free. In a way, it serves as a perfect summation of where America finds itself as a country.
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