[1 April 2012]
PopMatters Events Editor
As hard as it is to believe that there’s still someone out there clamoring for the same poppy sing/scream emo anthems that were blaring through many a college dorm room in 2004, apparently there still exists an audience for bands like Alesana. While the rest of the scene has moved on to whatever synth-laced Nintendo-core is currently cool enough to be mistaken for a Skrillex remix, the brave men of Alesana have chosen to stick it out to the bitter end – plodding down the path of a subgenre that has gasped its last. Even more unfortunate, that path is well worn by bands with ten times their talent. Nevertheless, A Place Where the Sun is Silent not-so-boldly goes where hundreds of bands have gone before.
In case you haven’t caught on yet, there’s nothing groud-breaking on this, the fourth full-length from the Raleigh, NC, rock sextet. In fact, Alesana appears to have reached back into the screamo canon and rehashed as many oft-used devices as humanly possible. There’s angst ridden storytelling (see: Hawthorne Heights), layered growl/shriek screams (see: Bring Me the Horizon), whispery spoken word lyrics (see: Thursday), fast-paced guitar riffs with gritty emo vocals (see: From First to Last), and even some interludes featuring a deep voice speaking in another language (see: Underoath). While each of the above listed bands could be accused of riding the scene-wave at one point or another, they were at least doing something somewhat original and, for better or worse, they each adapted to the changing musical climate by showcasing maturity and growth while shifting their sound. The problem with Alesana is that on their fourth go around, they are still clinging to the same formula they started with.
While their 2010 album The Emptiness was told in chapters, A Place Where the Sun is Silent is broken into two acts – “The Gate” and “The Immortal Still”. There’s a story being told here somewhat resembling Dante’s Inferno. It’s dark and there’s lots of talk of a “temptress”, a “path”, and a “veil”. The lyrical content of A Place Where the Sun is Silent serves to be the worst kind of poetry; it’s contrived, shallow, and maddeningly cliché. Furthermore, the album drags us through a grueling 16 tracks without ever giving the impression that the story is actually progressing. Instead of ending up as a different, unique take on an old story, it comes off as a bad and very vague take on any given “dark” narrative.
Mercifully, there appears to be a dash of talent found amidst Alesana’s members that you can catch in quick flashes if you’re dedicated enough to wait. Although it feels out of place, there’s an enjoyable guitar solo during the bridge of “Beyond the Sacred Glass”. Also, the tempo changes and catchy melodies found on “Circle VII: Sins of the Lion” are interesting enough to hold your attention. Unfortunately, these tolerable moments don’t justify the hour-long running time nor do they merit repeated listens. In a time when so many of us bellyache about having to pay 10 bucks for a handful of songs, it’s clear in this case that quality far outweighs quantity when it comes to our music consumption.
Concept albums are nothing new in the realm of recorded music, especially in this genre. Coheed and Cambria have been unfolding a story over the course of the past decade and manage to maintain relevance with each new album for a couple of reasons. For one, Claudio Sanchez is an entertaining and exciting storyteller whose ideas remain fresh and interesting. Also, the band’s evolving sound adds a layer of intrigue to each new chapter of the story, allowing the listener to enter without feeling as though they’ve heard it all before. A number of bands over the past few years have chosen to push the boundaries of post-hardcore in an effort to expand the genre and experiment with new sounds and have done so successfully. There’s not an excuse for treading water when the rest of the pack has moved ahead, taking the listeners with them. Alesana would be wise to take note of this before their “legacy” becomes that of a band who used their talents to poorly mimic those who came before them.