Raised Fist's Dedication is a near-classic piece of modern hardcore. The band developed a unique blend of Slayer-style guitar heroics, and combined it with a firm footing in old-school hardcore. It never fell into the metalcore trap, always maintaining the pace and simplicity of hardcore, just amped up with shredding guitars and the angriest vocals on the planet. Now, nearly four years later, the band delivers the followup to that album with Sound of the Republic, and despite my unwavering faith in the band, I must confess that it's not as flawless as its predecessor.
The album embraces a number of new sounds, increasing the dynamic of the album dramatically. Like labelmates Refused, the band understands the rules of hardcore and is just as capable of bending or breaking them when necessary. "Some of These Times," for example, spends time playing with tempos and effectively building aggression along with a far more rock-oriented riff structure in the tradition of peers like the Suicide File.
"Killing It" takes a more groove-oriented approach than previous material, and features a dominant melody plus a nice heavy guitar line. The song breaks down into a clean vocal bit, which does turn down some of the intensity but works fairly well. "Bleed Under My Pen" is a near-perfect approximation of Dedications' solid formula: blazing fast, and neck-snappingly intense.
The most obvious complaint that many will raise, is that the band has added some unncessarily theatrical vocals in the style of countrymen In Flames, with many songs featuring those kinds of major key melodies while Alle Hagman maintains his raging vocals over top. Despite the sheer power of Hagman's deliver, the melodic lines unfortunately subdue the intensity substantially. It's a minor complaint though, and doesn't hurt the album too much.
However, that flaw would be remedied if the record didn't lack one key ingredient on a few songs: follow-through. The best hardcore bands, both older ones like Minor Threat and newer ones like Modern Life Is War, understand the value of restraint. Take the bridge in "Screaming at a Wall," when Ian finally makes the shift from spoken to shouting; it has an unmistakable climax -- honestly, it's a thing of beauty.
In Republic, Raised Fist continuously wrenches up the intensity but in a few tracks lacks that forward momentium. As a result, the visceral power of hardcore becomes frustrating instead of freeing. Take "Sound of the Republic" with its riff-heavy structure; the song seems to promise nothing it never delivers. It's an odd frustration to explain verbally, but one that becomes increasingly clear when listening and one that is unfortunate.
Experimenting is not the problem, however. The melancholy "Time Will Let You Go, All Alone" is a major departure for the band, but manages to channel all the sound into a contrasting mix of rage and sadness. Similarly, "Perfectly Broken" replaces distortion with a mix of clean-sounding guitars and keyboards in the verses, while the rest of the band plays on; the contrasting sounds make the explosive chorus even better.
In many ways, the album exhibits many of the good and bad features of a transition album; on one hand, the free experimentation with their sound delivers some truly memorable moments, but other experiments fall flat. The real question is how long we'll have to wait to see where the transition leads.