It's hard enough to be a good band these days. You don't necessarily have to be innovative, but you damn well had better be talented to gain the respect of listeners. By listeners, I mean people that don't sing the praises of bands on Drive-Thru or Trustkill. I'm talking about educated listeners, and people who like a diverse array of music. That's the crowd not easily pleased. Making that even harder is not having vocals in your music. Insturmental bands have to be a special breed, one that can engage listeners and hold our attention with other things, and in other places that the vocals of most bands would have covered. There are bands that do this well. The Mercury Program, Tristeza, 1 Mile North, and then the subject of this review: Explosions In The Sky.
This is Explosions In The Sky's first official release. They did, however, have a demo floating around before this was put out in 2001, and they owe a lot of their accolades and hype to that demo. From that arose interest in the band, and Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Live Forever is where they delivered. The four piece from Texas put out one of the best debuts and just altogether best releases of 2001.
Extremes are the name of the game here. From a dull, clean pluck of the guitar, to thunderous drum fills and crunching guitars. Tempo swings and mood changes at a moment's notice are the centerpiece of this album and the reason why it's so dynamic. While listening, you can't help but be transported to a place all on it's own. Every chord and drum fill hits you separately while at the same time creating a wall of sound. Plenty of bands try the different dynamics of being mellow and loud at what seems like the same time, but never does it sound so effortless and utterly well done as with Explosions In The Sky. The open song structure is never confined by the chorus and verse standard that so many bands can't pry themselves away from, and only enhances the impact each song has on you. There's a distinct organization to these songs, but the layering and texturing of it will make you listen a few times before you 'get it.' It's never confined, and never quite what you expect to hear around each bend. The pitter-patter sounds on the snare drum can be followed by loud, punishing chords, or shimmering, clean plucks on the strings. This is music that drives to keep you guessing.
The album's opener, "Greet Death," has bass tones just as smooth as the guitars are crunching. The marching drums are a staple of many songs, and provide a strong base to be built upon by either the bass or guitars. Many times it will fade out, only to provide a remnant of what previously existed there. Never fully going away but only accentuating the centerpiece are the smooth guitar sounds. The songs never really lose touch with what they set out to do, be it build into a crashing crescendo, as in "Have You Passed Through This Night," or just stay intense throughout the song's duration. "A Poor Man's Memory" is where the guitar absolutely pummels, with heavy drum fills and splashes echoing in behind it. This is the type of moment that beautifully contrasts how soft and mellow this album can be at times. You'd almost never expect the two extremes to be made by the same set of musicians. These guys know how to create a balance, however, and finely tiptoe the line between the loud/soft dynamic. This album closes in granduer, with the truly epic, 12-minute "With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept." The song starts out with heavy feedback and slowly transitions to faint guitar at the forefront, beautifully stringing you along. That signature marching drum is barely in the background, but it's enough that you know it's there. The height of this song comes at about the 7:30 mark, where things are truly in full gear. Everything soon comes crashing down and mellows out for the duration, but never loses you. It never wavers. This is exactly how songs should be crafted.
My one, and only gripe with this CD is the production values. More could have been done in the way of production, but it's a problem fixed on 2003's The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place. It's not enough to hinder the album though, not even for a second. Throughout the album, it runs the gamut of human emotion. This band says more without lyrics than most bands can ever hope to with them. This truly is a statement, and I just hope you're all willing to listen and take notice if you haven't already. This band has something to say.