Every year, it feels like I’m getting older faster. I recently read an article about why that’s the case, and it says one way to slow down time is to break routine by trying new and unique things. This year’s Warped Tour put my life into perspective as a 21-year-old metal fan, telling stories to my friend’s high school-age cousin about seeing We Came As Romans live for the first time. “You know their crowd now? In 2011, it was, like, half that size!” I said. I know, it seems like I’m beating a dead horse with such a comment — and I might even be doing so by continuing to jam to metalcore four years later. But as I’ve opened up my taste over that time, getting into hip-hop, ambient music, and 90s punk, I’ve recognized how change is crucial. I’m sure We Came As Romans has as well.
At 17, To Plant A Seed was one of the first metalcore albums I ever listened to. Raspy screams and double bass drums were what catchy choruses and breakdowns were for me a few years earlier with A Day To Remember’s Homesick. With those two LPs, I began to fully break into heavy music. Understanding What We’ve Grown To Be came out later that year, and while it went in a vein similar to the debut, I hadn’t matured my taste enough in that time to want something different. Four years and two full-lengths later, and the band has shown lots of progression in their sound — some good, some not. But the fact that they’re willing to move forward and reach larger audiences, regardless of execution, is something that’s kept me interested. Plus, even with some duds, the new songs showcase a solid evolution, even if there’s still some tweaking and fleshing out to do.
Instead of shaking the metalcore genre up as acts like August Burns Red have done in recent years, the sextet has tapped more into post-hardcore and hard rock, similar to the sonic movements of Bring Me The Horizon and Of Mice & Men. As “The World I Used To Know” shows, these guys are expanding their core to include more rock and punk sounds, trying their hands at slicker, slower songs and ballads. And, in fact, a few on the new record actually work, “The World” and “Memories” specifically. Vocalist Dave Stephens continues to develop keen chemistry with Kyle Pavone, especially on their tightly woven clean duties. It’s in the chanted choruses where Pavone shines, nearly yelling out lines of tribulation over emotionally charged guitars. While positive lyrics are typically expected, the themes of enduring pain and standing in the midst of brokenness maintain a more sincere relevance than the overused “hope” message. It’s why everything oozes out so authentically in both songs, and throughout much of the rest of the disc as well.
It’s in the faster material and the delivery of their new energy, however, that the band comes up short. Anyone who was bothered by the lack of unique riffage on Tracing Back Roots will also find fault with this one, despite its improved production and concise writing. The melodies are smooth and vast for the most part, but many songs trudge through awkward arrangements and cheesy-sounding vocals to get their points across. “Regenerate” is the best of the hardcore-tinged offerings, with a chorus that seamlessly bursts out from punchy guitars and Stephens’ calls to action (“Why condemn when you can confide? / Regenerate, regenerate this life!”). But in “Tear It Down” and “Blur,” the execution is generic and muddy. Even in the more alt-punk “Savior Of The Week,” things go dull early on, leaving listeners with a sour taste all the way into “Flatline.” There, the group can’t decide on a vibe, allowing out-of-place piano and synth to float around an anthem-rock core.
With We Came As Romans, the post-hardcore players have a mixed bag. Either they’ve popped the small balloon that mainstream metalcore put them in, or the balloon’s deflated in recent years and they’re now moving out through the opening. That being said, it’s not exactly obvious which from the approach they took on this record. Some slow songs work, some come up short, and the same goes with the adrenaline-laced bangers. But it’s refreshing to see some change from a band that, in 2011, I thought could continue down the same formulaic path forever (and how dull could that have gotten?). For the first time, too, these guys may have a hit in their grasp — that is, if “The World I Used To Know” gets heard by the right crowd. Right now, though, they’re playing to several with a more-odd-than-brilliant collection of vibes. That’s because this record’s quiet substance is thrown off by bland instrumentation, and its succinct finesse is often overshadowed by missed opportunities.
One thing’s more notable than anything else by the songs on this record, and it’s that moving forward has its good and bad moments. Not only that, but it takes some time and work to perfect too. While musically We Came As Romans may be approaching a sprint, psychology shows that time’s slowing down for them, and hopefully as they continue to blast through Warped Tour and gain new fans, the results will be better than what’s few and far between on this release.
Post-Hardcore | Equal Vision Records