Into the Obscure: Straight Line Stitch – When Skies Wash Ashore

We all have our dirty metal secrets that we selfishly keep to ourselves, only sharing with a select few close to us. Or alternatively, we incessantly talk up underground gems and spread the gospel to anyone that will listen, as we cherish our slice of underground cred. Into the Obscure aims to right the wrongs and unearth the artists/albums that for whatever unjust reason didn’t get the exposure, appreciation or credit they sorely deserved the first time round.

Metalcore gets a bad rap, and here’s why: most of it kinda sucks. I guess that’s not really fair. I should say that most popular metalcore acts kinda suck. Especially true of melodic metalcore, a lot of bands that get big contracts and see hours upon hours of airtime for a lukewarm single all sound the same. Even in my infancy as a metal connoisseur, the trendy metalcore sound grew stale fast. To this day I lament the fact that better bands consistently flew far under the radar. Perhaps the best band of this crop—one which I found, ironically, because once every few months or so the one “hit” single they had played on the radio (“What You Do to Me”)—was Straight Line Stitch. Hailing from Knoxville, Tennesse, and founded in 1999, the group quietly released three EPs and two full lengths before When Skies Wash Ashore dropped without a hint in 2008. Let me tell you right now, if every melodic metalcore album rocked like this one, I doubt we would so strongly ridicule the genre.

Grinding violently against the boundary separating metalcore and full on extreme metal, When Skies Wash Ashore tears through thirty-eight minutes of intense, deeply personal material. It’s only recently, as I rediscovered this band—which, subsequently, inspired me to give them a proper write-up—that I understood just how awesome the songwriting is here. Not only do Straight Line Stitch circumvent every stereotypical pitfall littered across melodic metalcore, they also bring forth elements clearly inspired by death metal, thrash metal, and pop music in specific ways which help distinguish the band sonically from their peers. Additionally, though their lyrics’ subject matter ranges a spectrum of interpersonal relationships of myriad denominations, their execution feels two or three orders of magnitude more genuine than the standard. Carrying these themes across bloodied fields, gritty riffs thrash and crush with a heft I’ve not heard in the genre before or since When Skies Wash Ashore. Couple that with a star rhythm section, featuring bass lines that plunk and clunk their way through counterpoint harmonies and a kit-bashing for which most death metal bands would swoon. Now, add intimidating vocal performances across the board. Voilá! An album that pulls on the heartstrings as viciously as it severs nerve tissue arises.

As if to cut a deep slice into the flesh of nonbelievers, Straight Line Stitch open up When Skies Wash Ashore with an aggressive flaying in “Never See the Day.” The riffs are simple and effective, unrelenting in their ferocity, but then the first chorus arrives and the song transforms into a catchy earworm that will never escape my head for as long as I live. Suddenly a realization sets in: this is what metalcore could be when bands give a shit. Now that I’m hooked, the impact of every song all the way up to “Eucharist” explodes outward, surrounding and overwhelming my synapses with hooks, riffs and choruses, all without resorting to any fancy bells, whistles or odd time signatures to get the job done. “Eucharist” itself, however, expands the record’s potential further, excluding all harsh vocals and mainlining a poppy vocals-focused jaunt into my body like a sweet little shot of adrenaline. This song is genius for the simple fact that instead of using softness and beauty to separate sound beatings, Straight Line Stitch grab my arm and throw me into a rejuvenating frolic.

Unforgiving heft returns with a vengeance on “Black Veil” and “Adult Cinema,” the angriest cuts off this slab. Dealing with emotional manipulation and domestic abuse, the subject matter in this duo feels more severe than on previous songs, but they are no less fun to jam into your ear cavity. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a significant accomplishment, further proving to me that this songwriting comes from the heart and never once from the wallet. We get two more pop-centered selections afterwards, which give impressions of that first shaky breath taken just after a screaming match—a huge relief, though tinged with adrenaline and a vague sense of tension. “World Made Flesh” viciously releases that tension, demolishing whatever was left of sanity and composure. Then at last the acoustic closer “Yesterday’s Gone” allows the listener to finally move on.

Straight Line Stitch hit the nail on the head with When Skies Wash Ashore, but I encourage anybody to explore their other works as well, especially the excellent 2015 EP Transparency. These guys have that x-factor which puts their material on an elevated plane, and their skills as songwriters and performers remains unmatched in the genre. For years it felt like I was not only the sole person on Earth that appreciated this album—and by extension, this band—for its excellence, but was also the sole person on Earth who even bothered to spin it. Maybe the group just managed to find me when I needed them the most, but I’ll be damned if I allow Straight Line Stitch to fall into complete obscurity with the passage of time. They deserve better.

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