Across the Sun // Before the Night Takes Us
Rating: 3.0/5.0 — Pretty good, but could be a lot better.
Label: Metal Blade
Release Dates: US: 03.15.2011 | EU: 2011.03.14
An interesting irony of modern metal right now is that while much of the underground seems to be mind-numbingly obsessed with simplicity, a lot of the stuff that is righteously called “mainstream” or that attempts to be mainstream is really getting quite technical and progressive, this is the opposite of what was happening a decade ago, really. As a guy who has really leaned in that direction for a very long time, I have to say that I have trouble being upset by this movement, and it makes me open to a lot of things that I think a lot of metal elitists would never even be willing to listen to. Across the Sun is one of those bands that I think your average death metal or black metal dude is going to take a listen to and say “Oh, fuck these guys,” and turn off. But Angry Metal Guy takes records and gives them a listen for what they are and I can say that Across the Sun‘s Before the Night Takes Us is a record chalk full of interesting music, despite some pretty glaring weaknesses.
Before the Night Takes Us is a record that starts promisingly, actually, and two things stood out immediately. The first, and most defining, was vocalist Brandon Davis. In the opening strains of Before the Night Takes Us, which starts out with some heavy groove, a techy guitar part, hardcore vocals and into a clean chorus where Davis shows off his clear, baritone voice, I was pretty instantly near convinced that this would be great. Even when they broke into a breakdown, stoppy riff after the chorus I had been thinking that the record was showing some serious promise. The second thing is that the band had some chops. Again, we’re firmly in “post-hardcore” or metalcore territory, but the orchestrations and the keyboard work definitely also lands the band in the prog arena. This was definitely enjoyable and interesting.
And so while I was grooving along with Davis’ Killswitch Engageesque baritone on “Song of the Hopeless” (which also has fucking cheesy lyrics), he broke out the wail. This is actually not the first time that I’ve heard this, and it’s the second time in recent history that I’ve heard something that is basically an R&B or soul vocal technique coming into metal recently. The chick from Deadlock was doing it, too, on their last record Bizarro World and it drives me NUTS. It’s a vocal style that I totally abhor and it really pisses on any emotional poignancy that dude is trying to show off by making it sound forced and fake. It actually, to draw a strange comparison, reminds me of how Joey Tempest (Men kom igen! SkÃ¤mdes han fÃ¶r namnet Jocke!?) used to sing over the intro to every single Europe song. It’s the vocal equivalent of jumping up and down and screaming “LOOK AT ME!” In this case it’s less annoying, but it’s still a) distracting from the whole and b) hugely melodramatic and in poor taste. It takes what could be delicate passages and turns them into sappy passages. And unfortunately, it didn’t just happen once. It littered nearly every song. It is the wrong feel in the wrong place at the wrong time and casts a pallor over an otherwise serviceable disc.
Now after the rant, I can say that while it definitely ruins some moments (have I made that point clearly enough?), Before the Night Takes Us does have some pretty damn solid song-writing on it and I feel like it’s unfair to just pan the whole record because of an otherwise passable vocalist. While the music here definitely fits into the metalcore box, I’m happy to hear that the box is getting bigger and fewer bands are robbing At The Gates blind. Instead there’s piano work, as well as amazing technical guitar solos from axeman Sam Hafer and the bass and drum work from John Malloy and Alan Ashcraft respectively are excellent and work really well with what is really good technical music that straddles the border between tech death, power metal and melodic death metal. But don’t let the tech fool you, because structurally speaking the band doesn’t go too far out to pasture. The tracks don’t get any longer than 5 minutes, and while there is some mild creativity when it comes to form (the end of “Descent & Discovery” features a beautiful little keyboard/classical part), the tracks are definitely easy to sink your teeth into in the veins of Eminent or Killswitch. And the band never goes anywhere near the harder-to-grip technical nature of bands like The Human Abstract or Tesseract.
So while there are some good things going on here, and overall I have a fairly positive feeling about the album, there are some definite weaknesses (I don’t know if I mentioned the vocalist…). If you’re a fan of metalcore and melodic metal, it’s worth checking out. If you can handle the vocalist, you’ll probably enjoy the record because it’s got some good things to offer. And while it has some progressive elements and talented band members, it’s not exactly pushing the envelope and it feels like the band wants to conform to the scene and commercial viability a bit more than they want to make inventive and truly unique and/or forward thinking music. I’m sure that tactic will pay off for them, but I don’t know how much I’ll be coming back to this record. Let’s see where they are in a year or two when they’re putting up the follow up to this.