At least from my perspective, music has always had a cinematic quality to it. Whether it’s the suspenseful, dramatic feel that can define a movie score or a band’s bright, anthemic choruses that epitomize the Hollywood essence, cinema and music often go hand in hand. Many bands even try to model their music after the magic of film; Crown the Empire released a concept LP last year that played out like a screenplay and, thanks to their frontman’s experience as an actor, 30 Seconds to Mars is a rock band that lives and breathes with cinematic blood. The Ongoing Concept, a hardcore band out of Idaho, is bringing this approach to the metal scene. With their debut full-length, Saloon, they have created an artistic endeavor that is memorable, colorful and animated.
Bringing a chaos similar to bands like Norma Jean and The Chariot, The Ongoing Concept is overflowing with energetic zeal. Their tracks are loaded with shredding guitars, high-pitched wails, handclaps, chants, organs, piano and even some banjo here and there. For hardcore music, this is pushing the boundaries. The quartet is attempting to develop their own identity and their own vibe, and on Saloon, they successfully do so. “Cover Girl” is a boot stomp of metallic fervor, and the use of banjo in the song doesn’t feel forced. Rather, the banjo lines are incorporated to give it spring, and the placid outro allots time for the instrument to shine. While this track sets the tone for the rest of the record, the great thing about Saloon is that it’s full of variety and diversity. These 11 songs are more than just songs – they’re stories with their own sounds and their own unique atmospheres.
Luckily, too, gravity doesn’t pull them down. The quartet reaches for the stars on every single track, and they are still able to hold their own. “You Are the One” is one of the album’s catchiest offerings, and its handclaps, keys and gang vocals boost the spirit of the band’s rocky underbelly. “Sidelines” is the best example of the group’s moving down-to-earth side. The piano ballad lets Dawson Scholz’s impeccable clean vocals shine as he spills his emotions all over the song’s flavorful canvas. The track’s vulnerability is a very calming change from the electricity of the band’s heavier roots.
While the hardcore sections aren’t superb in terms of crunch or technicality, they do an excellent job of offsetting the melodic, catchy sections. In fact, as a standalone hardcore band, The Ongoing Concept would probably not get much attention. Scholz’s shrill high screams are another downside in this regard; they’re hard to get used to, and many people may not be able to swallow them. Luckily they aren’t completely overbearing, and the organic combination of chaos, melody and alternative elements makes Saloon a fun, interesting listen. At times, the band is able to bring the energy of bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan (and Scholz’s mid-level screams even remind me a bit of Greg Puciato). Songs like “Class of Twenty-Ten” and the organ-infused rocker “Failures & Fakes” are easy to picture being played live, and that’s because they are adrenaline-laced jams that hint at artists who made it big with their enticing stage presences – ranging from Bruce Hornsby to Underoath to even Glassjaw.
The key to creating music that really strikes the senses and makes a lasting impact is having the ability to build an atmosphere, an essence, a vibe. Many artists just make their songs come alive, and as a result, they can achieve a feeling that exists beyond the notion of a single album or iTunes playlist. These songs have a visibility to them and a vivid intensity seeping through their foundation. The record’s full conceptualization makes it feel like a spaghetti western with a metal twist, and the high amount of dialogue helps establish a setting. While The Ongoing Concept could definitely improve as a group of musicians, with their first album, their music has already found their identity and their calling. Saloon is a cinematic experience, a fun playthrough and an energetic group of songs.