Story of the Year - The Black Swan
Record Label: Epitaph Records / Geffen
Release Date: April 22, 2008
Regardless of your music taste, at heart I believe we as humans are yoked with an impassable fervor to sing at the top of our lungs when a catchy song penetrates our eardrums. Some, however, have become hardened, and sometimes in an egotistical effort, place themselves on a pedestal and suppress this inherent gift, instead choosing to scoff, “That song sucks!”
“Guilty pleasures,” as they have come to be known, are delicacies we all must learn to manage. For some reason, we believe although we derive pleasure from these songs, for some reason it is not “cool” to like them, ergo traipsing to the galleys to be hung by our fellow scenesters for not realizing the utterly apparent, that it is just “not cool” to like that certain band, song, or genre. With this understanding weighing heavier than it should, I deny Story of the Year’s third full-length album, The Black Swan, as a guilty pleasure, and in lieu, acknowledge it as the best rock album to hit the shelves so far this year.
Unlike the previous In the Wake of Determination, The Black Swan effectively balances the copiousness that swallowed the former with the fetching choruses that made their debut full-length Page Avenue an instant success. Opening with the swagger of “Choose Your Fate,” a song engrossed by flanging and chugging guitars, rafter-touching vocals, and polished drums and then falling into the band’s first single, “Wake Up” it became apparent to me that the man behind the boards, Mr. John Feldmann had possibly done the best production of his career on this album. There are perfect guitar tonalities, drum sounds, as well as vocals from both frontman Dan Marsala and back-up fill Phil Sneed, who at times proceed with brilliant two part harmony (“Message to the World,” “We’re Not Gonna Make It”). The gut of the album, however, delivers top-heavy, driving anthems and soaring choruses (“The Antidote,” “Angel in the Swamp”). As a whole, most songs don’t stray from the “Feldman Formula,” which often starts (and returns) which melodic, substantial guitar moldings, sandwiching the bulk of the song in between. Operating in this sort of format can be bromidic, but with an equitable producer the songs are still able to develop an identity, based firmly on the solid melodic foundation established from the onset (see: New Found Glory’s Coming Home).
Technically, the band’s musical progression isn’t as arresting on this album, although Ryan Phillips and Phil Sneed are prone to rip off a solo or two (“Cannonball,” “The Antidote”). And it wouldn’t be a Story of the Year album if the band didn’t throw in a couple slow ones to mandate the use of the glowing cigarette lighters. None, however, match that of Page Avenue’s “Sidewalks,” and “Terrified” ends up sounding halfway between a Simple Plan and Good Charlotte ballad, with a trite chorus that verbalizes, “Are you still alive? / Are you scared inside?” Lyrically, however, the album doesn’t get much deeper than this, even though much of the album remains politically charged (“Message to the World,” “Apathy is a Deathwish”).
A conglomeration of complaining has been circulating in this scene in the last couple years about diversity, talent, songwriting, and skill; many of which, according to the scene lobbyists, seem to be inadvertently slipping away. Well, here you have it. The Black Swan takes the best elements of rock and roll and parks them onto one record. The production glistens. The songwriting is ace. Played straight through, the album will send your heartbeat through the roof without reservation. And if you’re a Story of the Year hater, good for you. I’m sure you have your reasons. But if the reason is because you can’t help but burst out in singing when “Until the Day I Die” comes on the radio, find a new band to hate.
I love this album. I have to say though, I liked ITWOD too. I think I've liked all their albums equally but all in different ways. Black Swan and Page Avenue are definitely a step up on catchiness and creativity but I can't help but want to listen to some chuggin guitars and jump off of something every once in a while.