For a music industry that found itself in a flux in 2005, the story of Acceptance was a bit of a cautionary tale. The band’s move from the independent sphere to a major label proved difficult in an era where digital music, piracy, and radio play were of constant importance to the industry. Phantoms, the band’s debut record, was beleaguered by all three issues. Leaked nine months before its release, the album’s CD release was designed to be copy protected, a measure that resulted in the spread of a rootkit virus and furthered hampered its commercial rollout. They were further hampered by a major label that proved unwilling to stand by the band, despite the album itself generating positive, albeit limited, acclaim from critics in the scene. The issues were immovable when paired with the ill-conceived choices for singles from an album filled with the hooks, charisma and confidence fit for fans of the major label pop-punk/pop rock wave that dominated throughout the early 2000s.
Unlike other comebacks we’ve seen from the stalwarts of the AbsolutePunk era, Acceptance have more to prove than, say, The Early November or Yellowcard. Their legacy rests on one record, an album whose legacy is less complex than its (limited) unveiling to the world. One record may bring good memories and emotional resonance, but it doesn’t speak to any sort of sustained legacy beyond that set of songs. Colliding by Design is less of a comeback album than it is a sophomore record that was 12 years in the making. The excitement behind the release may be rooted in its connection to the cult of fans that grew around Phantoms, but this band is on a mission is to prove themselves — like they tried to do in 2005. Thankfully, Acceptance delivers a collection of songs that doesn’t look back, keeping their creative energy in a familiar wheelhouse while setting the stage for a strong future from this band.
One of the most jarring points of the Colliding by Design study is the inherent leap in maturity that comes with waiting 12 years between records. We don’t have any sort of body of work that we can place behind the growth that each of the band members faced in the decade after Phantoms. The fact that the band has had 12 years of building families, shifting jobs, and playing music sets a very different foundation for this record compared to the optimistic outlook towards success that rang in the early 2000s. The influence of Christian McAlhaney’s time in Anberlin is obvious in the bold, towering sound that encompasses most of these songs. In remaining consistent with Aaron Sprinkle at the production helm, there is a sonic consistency in Jason Vena’s vocals and the melody-driven, guitar-centric leads, though new electronic influences and expanded instrumental construction bring a degree of freshness to the record.
“Come Closer” serves as a bit of a bridge between this record and the band’s debut. The guitar intro plays like the opening of “Over You” minus Vena’s vocals. His vocals reverberate as he sings, “She wears clothes made of silk / For a night, some would kill.” When the drums kick in after the first chorus, it carries the timbre of a drum machine, as synths accent the guitar lead. The construction of the track is built upon a foundation that plays to fans of MuteMath and Anberlin, with a dark interpolation of electronics and measured production. Sprinkle’s work on this record leans more toward taking same mood and vibe that Phantoms brought forth and translating it to more intricate and expansive compositions. Guitars seldom carry the progression of songs on this record. “Diagram of a Simple Man” is about as pressing as the guitarwork goes, as the rest of the songs incorporate guitar accents and leads in lieu of driving power chords.
Considering the gap between the two records, it’s hard to precisely pinpoint the band’s artistic progression to this point. Moving from pop punk to this electronic driven, alternative sound seemed inevitable. The choruses here are subtler than those demanded by pop punk. “Sunset” is centered around a mix of pounding percussion that leads into poppy drum machine beats, with drifting guitars waxing and waning throughout. Another song dedicated to an unnamed woman, Vena sings about how “she’s a saint / she’s everything I ain’t.” It’s seeming romanticism amidst a dark, brooding production comes together in the end, closing the song with the line “all this time I’ve wasted on you.” The means to an end are less straightforward throughout this record, and they speak to a degree of songwriting growth and progression that happened in the time we’ve spent without a record.
While there are fewer singalong choruses on the album, there are certainly songs that carry a melodic glimmer in the chorus that will feel ripe for the old Acceptance fan. A long ambient intro plays into an array of shimmering guitars on “73”, eventually revealing one of the biggest choruses on this record. Vena sounds like he’s singing to a b-side by The Graduate, with the fluttering of guitars and up-tempo drum kick that creates sense of romantic vastness. His shouts of “I’m still here” in the choruses are appropriately polished amidst the climatic instrumentation that mirrors the love that is echoed when he sings, “If I ever really want to feel alive / I’ll take a look into your endless eyes.” As opposed to the more intricate, up-tempo chorus on “Fire and Rain”, the same sort of space on “Sunset” shines through on “73” — a dynamic that is present throughout the album.
In some ways, Colliding by Design is a comeback record. Taking an old group and bringing them together to splash like old times, “comeback” feels like an apt description for this band whose cult status created a stream of fans that eagerly awaited what a second album could bring. Maybe “second chance” serves as a more precise descriptor. With a back catalog consisting of a string of EPs and one studio album, the band didn’t have the depth to be considered a success. It took years of build up to convince Acceptance that the legacy of Phantoms wasn’t merely a loud minority, but rather a hungry, eager set of fans. With 12 years of no material or a discernable offshoot, Colliding by Design is filled with pages from bands who took the stage after they left. What we get is an album that finds the band holding their own, an establishment of where they stand after years of personal and creative change. The product is compelling, with a dark, moody ethos that will stick with each subsequent listen.
Pop-Rock | Rise Records