I began compiling my AOTY list in late November, which, now that I think about it, was a mistake on my part. December is typically empty and even a tad overkill compared to the rest of the year in music, but this year was very different. Thanks to The Republic of Wolves, My Epic, City Lights and After the Burial, a lot of the year’s momentum shifted towards the fourth quarter of 2013. Closing out an overwhelming finale to this year is Everything In Slow Motion’s Phoenix, an album that – despite being delayed several months – feels right on time. Meshing melodic, sweeping atmospherics and hardcore-tinged overtones, Phoenix is a beauty — and with that, a wonderful early Christmas gift as well.
When post-hardcore-meets-prog-rock outfit Hands broke apart in 2011, fans were left comforted knowing that vocalist/guitarist Shane Ochsner had started a new project. Knowing the momentous style he brought to the group both lyrically and instrumentally, it was almost assumed that Everything In Slow Motion would continue in the same vein. And while Phoenix does bring a lot of the same vibes as Hands, it also feels like an organic follow-up to 2011’s Give Me Rest. The guitars are bombastic as always, guiding the songs with their aerial crunch, while the vocals move briskly between Ochsner’s chaotic yelling and appeased singing. On the other hand, the production value and compositional drive both up the record to a careful, polished flow; this allows Phoenix to hit hard in some moments, yet dive down into complete ambience and weightlessness in others.
“Speak”, which features guest vocal work from Blindside’s Christian Lindskog, uses its dual harmonization to the fullest. Although it features some blistering riffage and excellent musical diversity that ranges from hardcore and post-hardcore to ambient indie-rock, the words really feel pushed to the forefront. Being a Christian band, Everything In Slow Motion makes sure that the words they speak – in the direction of God – really are meaningful and sincere. In fact, Ochsner even stated in an interview that writing the lyrics to the record was extremely difficult, because he wanted to make sure he was saying the right things.
One of the most visible themes of Phoenix is Ochsner’s struggle with his faith. He comforts listeners in tracks like “Most Days” and “The Fool”, where he speaks of sinful addictions and the problems he’s encountered both with the world and himself. It’s encouraging when a band comes off as so vulnerable; the lyrical themes allow both believers and non-believers to relate and empathize. Perhaps even understanding that Ochsner is going through the same struggles as so many others is a way to bring faith to people who may otherwise feel outside or independent of Christianity. In the closer “Proxima”, the instrumentation is a uniting tool, as are the lyrics. Despite speaking of impurity, everything in the song – from the acoustic guitars to the drums to the vocal harmonies of Ochsner and rising indie singer-songwriter Holly Ann – just feels incredibly pure.
In most songs, too, the overall feel is well-balanced — and yet, the record as a whole goes through a variety of emotions. “Get Out” is a straight-up jolt; Ochsner’s crushing screams and the background church bells give the song an ominous and expeditious aura. Fuzzy melodies rule “Numbers”, while “Poison” finds the band coating their sound in emo-rock distress, almost reminiscent of Balance and Composure in parts. But while the tone is often a very apprehensive one, “You Are” is lovely and praiseful, complete with impassioned voice cracks, background hums and high-pitched guitar chords. In the song, Ochsner screams “beautiful you are” many times, and – no matter what the listener believes in – this statement echoes some kind of truth. Because while there is a large differentiation in religious and cultural demographics, beauty is something we all can believe in. And from beginning to end, Phoenix is lustrous, overwhelming, and beautiful.
Music has the ability to motivate me, to keep me at bay. In a day and age when I struggle with my faith often, this is the most comforting aspect. Everything In Slow Motion’s debut album has strengthened me, and that’s a rarity in music nowadays. Phoenix forced me to make some edits to my AOTY list, but it was worth it for the way it has resonated with me. Any record that connects is going to go a long way, and with this record doing so through such a rich, honest expanse, it makes me hope it can affect others the same way. That, in the grandest sense, is unity.
Post-Hardcore | Facedown Records