Of Hearts and Shadows is the latest in a long line of screamo acts looking to make a dent in the scene. However, to simply call them screamo would be oversimplifying the music they create. Or, I could just be looking for some way to justify my enjoyment of the music.
If you have made a habit of reading my reviews, you probably know that screamo bands have a harder job of winning me over. You see, I am more of a metal guy and the screamo scene often times escapes me. I just wanted that up front, it is not that I am not open to it, but like any new style that comes up and makes it big there are bound to be a lot of sound alike bands that try to get caught in the wake of the frontrunners. That being the case, I have found fewer screamo bands I actually like. Of Hearts and Shadows is one of those bands that showcases a high level of talent and make moves to expand on the borders of the music the play.
Touching Base with a Chainsaw is not a perfect album, not by a longshot, but there is certainly a lot to sink your teeth into. The screamo label is an easy fit for them, although there is a lot of metalcore in their sound. It is almost like a metalcore band brought in a screamo style vocalist and the result is some sort of mutant emocore. The vocals have that alternating clean and raw throated scream mix that is a signature of screamo, but the music has a lot of technical precision in their timing with their lead harmonies and hardcore-esque breakdowns.
Honestly, this album was a surprise. I did not expect much from it, which was likely a mistake on my part, but I am tough enough to admit it. I was caught offguard, the music is crisp, heavy, very easy to bang your head to. Not to mention the strong grooves that they develop, lots of breakdowns and melodic phrasing mixed in that demonstrate some nicely developing songwriting skills.
The weakest part of the band would have to be the vocals, more specifically the clean style employed by Scott Bixby. His scream is quite good, loud, in your face, and carries some emotion. The clean style, however, comes across as a bit flat, not bad most of the time, exposed primarily in the final track, "Aldernaun." The song is considerably softer than the rest of the album, spiced with some acoustic guitars, and while musically it has a nice flow to it, a nice counterpoint to the rest of the album, the vocals don't really work for me. Not terrible, just a little weaker than on the heavier tracks.
For the most part, Touching Base with a Chainsaw delivers the goods. Pay particular attention to tracks "Pretty for Nostalgia," "Arbitrary," "Pull the Trigger," and their near eight minute epic "The Airport Symphonies." Then, as the album begins to wind down, they offer up a solo piano instrumental called "Two Years," it is a soft, contemplative piece which works well as chill down from the rage that has preceded it.
Musically, the band is led by the twin guitars of co-founder Ricky Vazquez and Ian Archer, as they team for some great melodies and very heavy power driven sections. Behind them are bassist Isaih Herevia, and drummer Matt Williams. They are young, and all show the skills to take Of Hearts and Shadows to the next level.
Touching Base with a Chainsaw is a strong debut for the emocore act out of San Diego, CA. I will say, I am not a big fan of the band name, sounds a little too, uh, screamo for me. Also, if I may comment on the album cover, the band's name is a little too hard to make out, it doesn't pop enough. I'd recommend a different font, or at least a different color, so I am not left starring at it trying to figure out who it is.
Bottomline. Definitely worth your time. This is an good album, no doubt about it. It is a band that does not seem content to follow what has been done, but tries to bring a little more to the table. It will be interesting to see how the develop over their next couple of albums. Of Hearts and Shadows is definitely a band to keep an eye on.