By being candid and looking at mortality, Marianas Trench create their most sonically adventurous album to date.
Back in 2009, Marianas Trench had already been against a microcosm. They called their album Masterpiece Theatre, not really caring about the connotation surrounding calling anything a "masterpiece". Though the record was far from the gold standard, it functioned in a way that did better than Canadian contemporaries sharing the limelight with the band. British Columbia's Hedley still had the hearts of underdogs, despite not creating resounding pop that'd surprise listeners of Top 40 radio stations. Marianas Trench's label mates Faber Drive were frequently tripping in their search for their next "Tongue Tied", a song that would be buried under several sound-alikes in the future. Justin Bieber would soon monopolize attention with regard to Canadian musicians.
Where does that leave Marianas Trench, a band that's named after an incredibly deep part of the ocean?
Like their song "Astoria" says: "Hey, ever just say fuck it?" The band do their thing without really looking at who surrounds them.
What the band has consistently done since their 2006 debut Fix Me is create a sound as large as possible, while maintaining meaning, personality, and, most importantly, fun. Astoria, a concept album revolving around singer Josh Ramsay's confrontation with sickness, darkness, and--when the layers have been peeled--mortality, is the band's most personal record yet, one drawing from the sounds and inspirations of the '80s while still resembling the gargantuan qualities the group has been known for. A noticeable change in instrumentation is the orchestra incorporated to weave the story, one that has its flaws show through shoddy structuring. Taken with or without the story, several songs on this record are infectious to the point where dancing is a certainty.
But before the dance commences, "Astoria" grounds listeners to a core foundation of this record: Ramsay's relationship with his mother, as well as his bond with a partner of his. Whether it be through looking back at fairy tales or unyieldingly raving to "Never say die", the band throw themselves into the chaos Ramsay faces. In the process of channelling the synthesizer from Corey Hart's "Sunglasses at Night", the rest of the band jumps in, whether it be through producing a pitch Michael Jackson can be proud of, filling the air with Queen-esque guitar power, or returning to form with Fleetwood Mac-inspired harmonizing. Structurally, once the adventure starts, the album transitions into cheery, less story-based songs that really bring about questions about how items fit in. Though "Burning Up" and "Yesterday" are enjoyable in their own right--the former track is obsessed with the sound of Cyndi Lauper while the latter track sounds like Kenny Loggins' "Footloose", for crying out loud--they seldom connect with the content projected with the concept: human struggle in the face of physical and mental disorder. These tracks feel like strange manic episodes juxtaposed with depressed ones.
Conceptually, songs are more strung together with the orchestra pieces that the band found useful to bring about more wholeness to their sound ("August Burns Red", "Hospital Bells", Hollywood Renaissance", et cetera). While these pieces are well thought-out in concept, the execution when considering the entire album leaves something to be desired. On Paramore's recent self-titled record, the band managed to incorporate interludes without breaking the flow of the album. In Marianas Trench's case, the flow is broken. Perhaps a recommendation, should the band pursue these pieces--the orchestration was well done, eliciting memories of the Lord of the Rings films to mind--they should either re-order the track listing or create a larger instrumental track with elements that channel Ramsay's timeline of events, whether the musical scenes look at his fear of losing his mother to sickness, reflections regarding his partner, or his well-being.
In this timeline, there are songs that are mostly hits rather than misses, and thankfully the flaws aren't due to tracks that worship their '80s influences. The more radio-friendly takes on this record ("One Love", "Wildfire", "While We're Young") feel more than tame, which is a shame considering that the larger, more eclectic pieces would never see the light of Top 40 stations. It might even be a bigger shame for those hoping to take this record on as a gateway to loving the band, because this record is truly made for the fans. In spite of this, the epic stand that each band member takes is truly glorious in the finale "End of an Era". Astoria is a record for those who've imagined countless adventures through the band's rock opera-inspired albums.
As long as listeners keep adventure and the human struggle in their minds, then Astoria will be a delight to fans and starters alike.