Look up “adversity” in the dictionary, and you’re likely going to encounter a picture of Brooklyn’s Candiria. The legendary hardcore outfit, made infamous through their fusion of hip-hop, freeform jazz, NYC hardcore, and death metal, crushed crowds the world over with their frenetic live show. Influential albums such as 1999’s The Process of Self-Development and 2001’s 300 Percent Density wowed listeners with their amorphous stop-on-the-crest-of-a-dime style changes, ridiculous lyrical flow by frontman Carley Coma, and the ability to keep things heavy. A horrific van accident that nearly killed the band in 2002 disrupted the momentum significantly, causing them to opt for more melodic waters with 2004’s What Doesn’t Kill You… and 2009’s Kiss The Lie, before laying dormant. With a revamped line-up, Candiria finally returns with the ambitious While They Were Sleeping, a concept album based on a failed musician creating a monarchy in this crumbled society.
Now, I noticed that their fanbase generally falls into two distinct camps, and I will address the Pro-Self-Development/300 Percent crowd first. Yes, those two albums were and still are monstrous. However, if you are waiting for a return to that sound, it’s best to move on, as only the opening title track has that staccato-but-fucking-mean vibe that those albums had in droves. New drummer Danny Grossarth has filled Kenneth Schalk’s considerable shoes admirably, keeping groove in his pocket at all times and matching guitarists John LaMacchia and newcomer Julio Arias turn-for-turn as they, along with bassist Michael MacIvor, navigate through twisty riffs and melodic jazz interludes. Coma’s rapping and sick metal growls (last heard on… an Iron Maiden cover? Really!) are replaced with mostly clean singing and a mid-range hardcore bark. Also, many of you will scoff at “Forgotten,” which comes dangerously close to arena rock territory, especially when taken out of context.
Now that the first crowd got what they came here for, let’s explore the last five words of the previous paragraph because, within or without the context of the album, “Forgotten” is a great song. The chorus is rousing, the message of not throwing away your dreams is meaningful, and the gang chorus at the end brings the emotional gravitas of the song to a perfect end. In fact, While They Were Sleeping, front-to-back, is easily among Candiria‘s strongest albums, and it’s due in no small part to Coma’s performance and lyrics. The middle of “Mereya” sees the band branching out to smoother jazz territory, with Coma flexing his scat-singing skills before flowing into one impressively long scream, and engaging his personal beast mode to end things. “Opaque,” the band’s first attempt at a ballad, touches with a somber bass and guitar melody, and some of Coma’s best singing to date.
The Tom Tierny and Alex Mead-Fox production at Spaceman Sound feels organic and robust. The horns and flute pop (especially on “Wandering Light”), the bass throbs with richness and depth, and the guitars sound great distorted or clean. If there are any complaints to be had, it does feel like the band is reined in a bit. I appreciate the chances taken, and they payed off. I just wished for even more.1 Also, the album, while lacking bad tracks, feels front-loaded, with the strongest songs leading off the album. That said, rarely does an album enthrall from beginning to end like While They Were Sleeping does, with every member playing exceptionally well. And in the hands of a lesser lyricist, songs about personal demons (“Forgotten”), betrayal (“One of You Will Betray Me”), comeuppance (“With Broken Bones”) and finally revenge (the awesome closer “Servitude”) would sound trite. Kudos to Coma for bringing it both vocally and lyrically.
Yes, the first group I mentioned will continue to lament the changes made by Candiria over the years, and may come away feeling disappointed with While They Were Sleeping. I get that, I really do. But what of the second group? That group is made up of people who welcome their return with open arms, with hopes that the time off, coupled with their growth and maturity, would craft a work of art. That group will be handsomely rewarded, as Candiria crafted the best hardcore concept album since Life of Agony‘s River Runs Red. Free your mind and take this album in. I promise you’ll walk away impressed.