Sunday, April 1, 2018

Album Review: Light The Torch - Revival

I've said several times before that, as someone who didn't come to metal when I was exceedingly young, one of my formative experiences was listening to Killswitch Engage's "The End Of Heartache". Over the last fifteen years, every time I listen to something that draws from metal's modern incarnations, my mind wanders back to those days, and that album. And while it helped form me, it was with their 2009 self-titled album that they truly hooked me, with Howard Jones' powerful vocals, heartfelt lyrics, and massive vocal hooks. It has remained one of my favorite metal albums, because of its unique embrace of lush melody. So when Howard's current band announced their new album would have a heavier fixation on melody than anything since then, I was certainly intrigued.

When the first two singles came along, and I heard what they meant, I was not just intrigued, but floored by what was possible. This was what I had been waiting for.

Those songs, "Die Alone" and "Calm Before The Storm", are everything that modern metal should be, but rarely is. The riffs are deep and heavy, the rhythms with enough groove to get heads banging, and Howard's vocals absolutely soaring as he delivers titanic melodies. He has been a prominent figure in the metal world for nearly fifteen years now, and I can honestly say he's never sounded better than he has here. And with the vocals tilting more than ever to his cleans, that truth is even more apparent.

That shift is crucial. In their time as Devil You Know, these core musicians weren't able to completely capture their potential. Those records were fueled by heaviness, and while Howard is a great harsh vocalist, they were lacking the balance and dynamics that make anything even tangentially associated with metalcore great. What makes Light The Torch work is the re-calibrating of their sound, painting melody on top of brutal heaviness, the light and dark dancing in a way that heightens the extremes. This record sounds heavier than any death metal record, because (to excuse a pun) the calm before the storm lulls you into forgetting how crushing they can be when they lock in.

Somewhere along the way, it became conventional wisdom to say that heavy metal shouldn't be emotional or melodic. The music got intertwined with a false image of masculinity, where anger was the only appropriate expression. "Revival" is not that kind of record, and while there will be people who gripe about it being too 'commercial', those are the thoughts of people who can't see the bigger picture.

It has been said that the devil's greatest trick is convincing people he doesn't exist. Likewise, the greatest trick metal can undertake is convincing people it almost isn't metal. Yes, "Raise The Dead" sounds like a song that could be a radio hit, but that masks the truth that behind that sticky melody is a fire-breathing metal monster slowly burning you alive. If you're like me, you can listen to "Revival" on the surface and be awash in the fantastic melodies Howard keeps delivering. But if you're not paying attention, you don't realize that the band is indoctrinating you into all manner of modern heavy metal tropes. This is the kind of record that can convert non-metal fans. It's sneaky like that.

Those who walk into a situation with expectations could find themselves disappointed. If you thought Light The Torch would be the second coming of Killswitch Engage, or even Devil You Know, this record will not speak to you. They aren't recreating the past, they're building a new future. By leaving the preconceptions behind, they have found themselves in a place few bands are able to; the spotlight.

Every few years an album comes along that manages to perfectly marry modern heaviness with classic melody. When that happens, I proclaim it to be the start of a new metal Enlightenment, only for no one else to jump on board. Whether this album will have more impact in that direction than the others is unimportant. What is important is to make clear that "Revival" is higher-level metal, a step forward on the evolutionary ladder, and absolutely one of the best records that will come out in 2018.

Howard Jones' voice helped me become a metal fan. Light The Torch, with this album, pays off on all those years of listening and joins Bloodbound's "Tabula Rasa" and James LaBrie's "Impermanent Resonance" in my pantheon of what is possible in modern heavy metal.

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