The Human Abstract - Midheaven
Record Label: Hopeless Records
Release Date: August 19, 2008
Before we get started, I have a confession to make: The Human Abstract's 2006 release, Notcturne, is, to this day, one of my favorite metal albums of all-time. It's amazingly intricate guitar work and technical structure made it stand out from your everyday metalcore bands invading the scene, and due to its impact on me, it is inevitable that this review will contain comparisons to the previous album - especially since missing from 2008's Midheaven is A.J. Minnette, the wunderkind guitarist/songwriter that composed their freshman effort. It was with trembling nerves and high hopes that I started listening.
The first thing the listener will notice into the first track, “A Violent Strike,” is how the production has been stripped down compared to most releases, and much more notably so than Nocturne. The drums are loud and muddy, and on top of them are guitar lines that are often unclear and fade or bleed into the mix horribly. The song itself is a (near) seven minute track that shows a mild departure from their previous efforts, and is a good introduction into the new Human Abstract sound. It's followed by “Procession of the Fates,” another catchy track with an undeniably quirky and fun breakdown/jam session near the end. “Breathing Life Into Devices” hits next, and although it has very catchy vocal melodies courtesy of lead singer Nathan Ells, it feels more like an alternative rock song and would make any longtime fan scratch their head or gasp in surprise. The next song continues this confusing trend, but is followed by the album's standout track “Metanoia”. It shows off their musical versatility (especially drummer Brett Powell's unconventional and technical style) and their ability to craft an extremely heavy song (re: the breakdown halfway through that's bone-crunching, but over as quickly as it began).
After the halfway point, I was a little puzzled at what sound the band was going for: a weird mishmash of technical metal and simplistic alternative rock chord structures that started the album follows through the remaining five tracks with “Calm in The Chaos” standing out as a very good track despite its short length. The album closes off with “A Dead World At Sunrise,” a track that is notable despite its relatively calm nature.
The problem with Midheaven is not that the songs aren't good, it's that they aren't Nocturne good. As it stands, Midheaven is still a very above-average album. The band has stated several times they were not going to write the same record as before, and I'm definitely all for experimenting and trying new things, but in the grand scheme of progress, this album is a step back in most all ways. Guitarists Andrew Tapley and Dean Herrera can definitely play, and their inhuman ability to shred is very prominent on some tracks, but the runs and sweeps add little to the song, unlike previous guitarist Minnette's work on Nocturne, and in a band that is defined by its guitar work, this is not a good thing. While I understand their decision to use less Pro-Tools and sound editing, it is just unforgivable to have production values this low on an album where every note needs to be heard crisply and clearly. Lyrically, Ells delivers this time around again. If you're into cookie-cutter lyrics about relationships and revenge on ex-friends or lovers, this is not the album for you; Ells brings a refreshing introspection to the genre, and mixes it up with clean vocals, screaming, and even spoken word sections. Ells vocals are very powerful and moving, and definitely save the slower songs from being average.
Despite a few qualms, Midheaven is definitely a good album, and a few tracks on it are templates as to how metalcore should be done in the stagnating scene. Give it a spin.