Review: Saosin Make A Triumphant Return with ‘Along The Shadow’
Although they’ve taken on seven years since their last full-length, Saosin hasn’t released an album with Anthony Green since 2003. And even that album was only a five-song, fifteen-minute EP. Despite that, Translating the Name was one of most influential releases of the time. Nearly single-handedly shifting the focus of post-hardcore into more technicality-minded, guitar-driven terrain, the EP would’ve been noteworthy for that alone, but it was also the first taste most listeners got of Green’s distinctive voice. A follow-up album with Green even a couple years later would’ve had big shoes to fill, but Along the Shadow comes over a decade later, after the release of two decidedly not-post-hardcore albums with another vocalist.
You can add the departure of guitarist Justin Shekoski to the list of things that might’ve made fans skeptical; intense, complex riffs have always been a staple of Saosin’s sound, whether on that fiery EP or on their more pop-oriented (although no less musically impressive) self-titled album. And for a lesser band, this might’ve been the last trip up. But Saosin is no lesser band, and Along exceeds every expectation fans could’ve placed on the band.
Now, certainly, there will be fans who, having grown accustomed to Green’s work with the progressive rock band Circa Survive, will be quick to judge Along the Shadow as a knockoff or heavier version of Circa’s latest, Descensus. While it is true that Green’s vocals have changed quite a bit since his early twenties and his style of writing lyrics and melodies has progressed during his time with Circa, this is certainly not similar to that band in any way aside from those aspects. If the crunchy riffs and ragged shouts on opener “The Silver String” didn’t make that clear, then the first chorus of the second track, “Ideology Is Theft,” definitely will, as Green screams himself raw.
But Green’s harsher vocal stylings aren’t the only things to differentiate this from his other project’s music. Saosin has always been a band focused on all facets of the band, and that remains true here. The drumming on “The Silver String” is just as dizzyingly impressive as we’ve come to expect from Alex Rodriguez, and he never lets up behind the kit throughout the duration of the album, culminating with one of his best performances yet on closer “Control and the Urge to Pray.” Elsewhere the guitar playing shines brightest, like on the spacious “Sore Distress,” with an almost math-rock feeling to the arpeggios; “Racing Towards a Red Light “shows that the band doesn’t have to sacrifice technicality to write perhaps their heaviest riff yet; shades of the more aggressive songs on the band’s self-titled release pop up here and there on “Illusion & Control,” which perfectly strikes the spot in between accessible alt-rock and crushing post-hardcore and “Count Back from Ten,” with its incredible, frenetic drumming and thick opening guitar riff, could’ve been pulled straight off Translating.
However, though this is distinctly a Saosin release, the band still finds room to explore new textures and directions on this album. The most obvious is “The Stutter Says a Lot,” which borrows heavily from The Moon Is Down-era Further Seems Forever’s playbook, first with an introductory verse that recalls that album’s single “Snowbirds and Townies,” then launching into a chorus with a melody Chris Carrabba would be proud of. At the same time, though, Green’s cutting shrieks give the song a clear Saosin feel. The result is one of the best songs the band’s ever released, in any incarnation. Elsewhere, the band puts an emphasis on atmospherics, like “Sore Distress,” which probably bears the most resemblance to a Circa Survive song. Then there’s “Second Guesses,” which sounds like a cut off the band’s self-titled record with Green’s voice thrown in. Aside from the screaming layered under the prechorus, the song would sound right at home on any alternative rock station. Unfortunately, not all the band’s risks pay off – “The Secret Meaning of Freedom” is the most straightfoward song Saosin’s released, and just comes off as a pretty by-the-numbers hardcore song. It isn’t bad, necessarily, but it’s stale in comparison to the rest of the album, since they’re capable of much better.
The most puzzling choice made on this album, though, isn’t actually one on the album. It’s the two bonus tracks that were left off, “Drinking from the Fountain” and “Along the Shadow of Man.” The two together are some of the best the band’s ever released, and easily the best from this album cycle. “Drinking” manages to make a screamed hook catchy in a way that only this band can, and it has the most punishing bridge on the album; the pseudo-title-track is another atmospheric track, with Green’s high screams serving as a nice contrast.
Some might tire of his high-pitched shrieks as the album goes on, but for most, it’ll just be great to hear Anthony Green as Saosin’s frontman again. Along the Shadow not only does a good job of reintroducing Saosin with Anthony Green, but also of introducing listeners to the new Saosin and the band’s sound in 2016. Oh, and besides that, it’s just a damn good album.