Most everyone, upon leaving their teenage years behind, will wince in embarrassment at some of the bands they once spent hours listening to in their formative years, of having to acknowledge that: “Yes, I actually loved that band and its music.” For me, that band is none other than hater magnet, Alesana.
The sextet from Raleigh, North Carolina has long been a target for “musical purists,” who long ridiculed the band’s insistence of dressing in black, topped off with a healthy dose of eyeliner and nail polish. Alesana have, however, managed to take any and all criticisms on the chin, returning with their fourth album, A Place Where the Sun is Silent.
The serial story tellers – who have written “concept records” since releasing their debut full length, On Frail Wings of Vanity and Wax – return with the same tried and trusted tactic of basing their songs off fairy tales/mythology, this time utilizing the story and characters from Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century poem, “Dante’s Inferno.”
APWTSIS is split into two “acts,” The Gate and The Immortal Still, with a total runtime of just over an hour. Sitting through the entirety of the album is a challenge, though it isn’t so much an issue of the album’s length, as it is regarding the necessity of releasing a frikkin’ double album. Non-fans of the band should stay well away from the record, because though it does display a more mainstream sound and some newfound maturity, Alesana will always be Alesana.
The first proper song on the album, “A Forbidden Dance,” perfectly encapsulates Alesana’s shift in direction, with more clean vocals from singer/guitarist Shawn Milke, and some (hold your breath) bluesy, almost classical guitar parts from axe-men Patrick Thompson and Alex Torres. The melodies in the song are intriguing, especially when the trumpets kick in.
Third track “Hand In Hand With The Damned” is another decent song, though it only really shines after the halfway mark, with a neat interlude and a soaring melody. Any goodwill garnered by the previous songs is surely eradicated by the tragically redundant “The Temptress,” which reeks of the worst of Alesana, with a cheesy vocal melody and uninspired guitar parts.
If you’ve never been one to enjoy Alesana’s vocal performances, nothing on APWTSIS will convert you. Dennis Lee’s screams are as raspy and gravelly as ever, and Milke’s voice is as whiny as ever. The nod for best song on the record falls to “Circle VII: Sins of the Lion,” with Milke shining in particular, as his voice soars to fairly listenable heights. Piano-driven ballad “Vestige” holds the listener’s interest with the dueling vocals of Milke and his sister, Melissa, whose delicate, almost Lights-esque voice will be familiar to long-time Alesana fans.
On Act II, “Welcome to the Vanity Faire” stands out with its poppy intro riff (which would not sound completely out of place on an All Time Low album) but falls flat on its face with its plethora of redundant riffs, though the chorus is definitely good to jump along to.
In the end, what really holds the band back is its insistence on releasing a double album, when they would have been better served going down the more traditional, single album route. APWTSIS is an absolute chore to sit through, which is a shame because Alesana has, surprisingly, displayed some growth and creativity in their abilities as songwriters. The band isn’t quite there yet – Mastodon and Fucked Up are the bands I look to when it comes to concept albums – but keep it up, and Alesana may no longer be the band I look back on in shame.