As Cities Burn – Hell or High Water
Release Date: April 21, 2009
Record Label: Tooth & Nail
When creating music, or any kind of art, it is essential to try new things, push your boundaries, expand, and learn. Very few bands within the scene have evolved and challenged their creativity as much as As Cities Burn. The Louisiana quartet has transitioned from screaming and a metalcore vibe into a brooding sound that borders on sharp, driving guitar parts and emotionally heavy vocals.
The band almost didn’t even make it to this point. After the release of 2005’s Son, I Love You At Your Darkest, the band was all set to break up. But an outpouring of love and support from their fans convinced the band to stay together. After original vocalst T.J. Bonnette left the band for personal reasons, and guitarist Cody Bonnette took over vocal duties. They released Come Now, Sleep in 2007, which was a complete departure for the debut. Gone was the screaming and punishing guitars, replaced by clean vocals and an atmospheric vibe. Now, without all these trials and tribulations, the band’s third album, Hell or High Water, might have been a completely different album.
Continuing on the path Come Now, Sleep started, Hell or High Water offers a variety of paces, dynamics, and moods. “84’ Sheepdog” starts with driving guitars as Bonnette exclaims, “They fixed your brain when you were young!” With the uptempo pace set by drummer Aaron Lunsford and some guest screaming from T.J. Bonnette, the song is an energetic charger that sets the tone. “Into The Sea” flows in the vein of Come Now, Sleep, as Bonnette’s vocals really carry the song.
With a chunky bass line from Colin Kimble and a steady drumbeat, the stunning “Made Too Pretty” will become a fan favorite. Bonnette’s vocals are powerful, and are complimented by the guitar riff that periodically pops in during the track. The six-minute “Lady Blue” sludges along with a lonely guitar riff, group vocals, and what sounds like chains hitting a wooden floor, and then inexplicably transitions into an upbeat, guitar-driven track. “Petty” features a vibrant bass line and hard-hitting chorus that incorporates some Shakespeare.
“Capover” brings out a dance/Jonezetta vibe, and while as an individual track it is pretty good, within the context of the album it stands out as the weird uncle. But album closer “Gates” makes up for any misstep the previous track may have accounted for. “Gates” is the sum of all the parts that make As Cities Burn so appealing. It’s dark, menacing, and hauntingly beautiful. The track continues to build and build until it reaches the climax of crashing guitars and drum cymbals, as well as T.J. Bonnette (appearing once again) lending his empathetic howl. When “Gates” finally finishes, you’ll have chills and your finger will automatically hit “play” again.
My first impression after hearing Hell or High Water a few weeks ago was that it was good. Since then, that “good” has progressed to “great,” as Hell or High Water is As Cities Burn’s best album. There isn’t a dull moment, whether it’s the album pulling you in with its dreamy dynamics or kicking you in the gluteus maximus. With rumors swirling around that the band may be finished once again, it’s time to cherish what this group of four guys has created. If Hell or High Water really is As Cities Burn last hurrah, then what a triumphant one it is.