Aussie giants of the metalcore The Amity Affliction are back with their sixth album and first without integral drummer Ryan Burt. By this point in a band’s discography, you can expect them to be a different prospect to early releases – just take a look at fellow Australians Parkway Drive and their sixth album sway towards more traditional metal earlier this year – so TAA’s release was always going to be intriguing.
Album opener and first single ‘Ivy (Doomsday)’ is the kind of sound that the casual Amity listener might have expected, but die-hard fans may not have preferred. It’s familiar, or even safe. The mix of guitars, drums and synths is very polished, but manages to pack a punch as you reach the choruses and breakdown two and a half minutes in. Importantly, the trademark clean/unclean vocal duo of Ahren Stringer and Joel Birch is as prominent as ever, albeit with a more reined-in approach for the latter’s growls.
The second single ‘Feels Like I’m Dying’ puts far more emphasis on the synths, in a way that feels more like a gimmick than song-enhancing. During the pre-chorus, Joel’scream of “feels like I’m—” is cut short by a very generic synth lick, which then recurs throughout the underwhelming choruses. The dynamic created by this is really rather jarring, so the song is never given the opportunity to build momentum.
‘Holier Than Heaven’ is one of the heaviest songs on the album and also one of the best. Similarly to the opener, its formula is very safe but the screams play far more of an impactful role. Bravo.
Fourth track ‘Burn Alive’ couldn’t be more different, as its instrumentation could quite easily be the backing track to one of the more recent Paramore offerings. It is simply a synth pop track, whilst the lyrics are also very much lacking. Indeed once you pass the two minute mark, the majority of lyrics that you hear either vocalist sing is just the repetition of “yeah”.
The album’s title track has a fuller sound, opening with clean guitars before the pulsation of synths and drums kick in for the verse. Again however, in a similar way to ‘Feels Like Dying’, the use of electronics takes the backbone out of the chorus, with Joel’s growls working alongside an incomprehensible vocal synth.
‘Kick Rocks’ fits into the same bracket as a couple of the earlier tracks as being good but nothing new, whilst ‘Black Cloud’ is one of the album’s stronger tracks. Its production makes it feel like something of a stadium anthem and its breakdown in particular is grimace-inducing, in a very good way.
With ‘D.I.E.’, it is hard to get past what seems like lazy lyricism. In fact, you could make an excessively effective drinking game from having a shot of your favourite beverage whenever a word is spelt out. Once you get past that it is rather good, even if the guitar solo comes not only out of left field, but left field on a completely different pitch.
‘Drag The Lake’ ticks the emo box for that branch of the band’s fanbase, and does so rather well. ‘Beltsville Blues’ however is a strange one, with guitar parts plucked right out of the 80’s hard rock/hair metal era, continued smatterings of synths and a fair old amount of growling for one of the softest songs on the album.
Ahren‘s vocals have a country-inspired twang on ‘Set Me Free’, with its instrumentation again harking back a few decades. Of all of the musical experiments that seem to have taken place on this album, this is one of the most interesting; one for fans of Volbeat to judge, perhaps.
‘The Gift Horse’ rounds off this rollercoaster of an album with the most stripped back of tracks, where most of it is just clean vocals and synth before it reaches its climax in the final minute. Sullen, predictable, but fine.
42 minutes of play time is quite standard for an LP but, considering the few tracks included that really are not up to scratch, you could easily shave it down to a half an hour powerhouse. The album is adventurous and clearly shows a band experimenting with different sonic spaces: a few tracks are very good; many are either solid but unmemorable or leave you scratching your head; and a few will be swiftly forgotten by many. Older fans of the band may not think much of it, but there is enough going on to appeal to fresh ears.
‘Misery’ by The Amity Affliction is out now via Roadrunner Records.