Monday, April 22, 2013

Album Review: The Appleseed Cast - Illumination Ritual

Album Rating: A-
If there's anything that helps The Appleseed Cast write their albums, it's experience above all else. While trying to move towards the post-rock sound, it's their background in emo-rock that keeps things different than the rest of the genre. Fusing the best elements of Two Conversations and their earlier experimental work Low Level Owls, Peregrine came into being; this emo post-rock was then evolved on Sagarmatha, which many thought was a perfect culmination between the two. However, the Kansas-centered project has something else to interject, and that would be Illumination Ritual. The musical maturity on this album is absolutely explicit, and there's no question that the band has mastered the sound they were looking for since 2006.

The defining song of this record is absolutely "Cathedral Rings." You can hear the defining elements of bands like Mineral and Sunny Day Real Estate in the drum line and the vocals, but it's the airy chords and melody over the top that bring the hybridized prowess to the track. From the very start of the song, you can hear exactly what's going to happen; Nathan Wilder throws down a rhythm that's very complex, articulate, and dry, while an airy guitar plucks simple chords overhead, drifting lazily along. Then, as Christopher Crisci's vocal verse heads into a chorus, a guitar-central buildup begins, in a mixed fashion of emo and instrumental bittersweet in emotion but wondrous in presentation. The outro uses much of the same, but crescendos and hastens more quickly, with power that doesn't push too hard, and it rings out with the perfect amount of power, leaving a lasting impact as it flows into a gentler "30 Degrees 3AM."

"Barrier Islands (Do We Remain)," on the other hand, begins in one spectrum and flows towards the other. There's a very ethereal beginning, with warm chords being struck and floating tremolos over the top, with Wilder's drumming being on more of an open kit with less accenting, allowing the sounds to ring more. The vocals don't even begin until halfway through the track, and even then, it's a ghostly shout choir that serves as coloration, melding into the bass and guitar as simply another texture. The instruments begin to pick up and add variation over the vox, and once the rhythm becomes more prominent, it gets harder and harder not to bob one's head along with the prominent beat presented, and the song progresses towards an ending with heavy emphasis on the "rock" in post-rock.

There's an overwhelming amount of things done right on this album, on both the emo and post-rock fronts. "North Star Ordination" is a very gradual evolution of sound, with lots of interesting color tones thrown in and a full minute-long buildup to shake the earth of vamping the same riff with additional sounds tacked on every few repetitions to give it even more strength. What's more, the culmination is perfect - it doesn't stretch out too long to get stale, and it's concise while providing a small echo to give power as an ending effect. Meanwhile, the titular track "Illumination Ritual" is a bastardized version of At The Drive-In's "One-Armed Scissor" and Sigur Ros' "Takk." There's enough confusing atonality to drive the song back to the old fanbase, but there's a sense of quietude that's difficult to find in emo-rock that fits in here perfectly, not to mention how technically tight this song is in its own chaos. Finally, each track aligns with the next in a way that not many albums really have. Once the conclusion of one song happens, the next one is beginning in such an interesting fashion, it draws you in, and the pace just continues throughout. The continuity is subtle, but feels very right when you get through an entire album playthrough.

Overall, Illumination Ritual is a big success. I'm sure there are errors, but they're so minimally negligible that without a discerning ear, you wouldn't hear them at all beneath a glorious 10-track soundscape that spans the palette of human emotion. It's a fantastic apex of The Appleseed Cast's discography as of now, but I'm more than hopeful that the band's sound will continue to evolve with its members, as has occurred in previous years. For now, we have this record, the perfect amalgamation between two of my favorite genres, syncing together like they were made for one another.

The album comes out tomorrow, April 23rd! Be sure to keep an eye on the band's website and Facebook page for information.

Track Listing:
01) Adriatic To Black Sea
02) Great Lake Derelict
03) Simple Forms
04) Cathedral Rings
05) 30 Degrees 3AM
06) Branches On The Arrow Peak Revelation
07) Barrier Islands (Do We Remain)
08) North Star Ordination
09) Clearing Life
10) Illumination Ritual

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