Here in the present, post-Deadguy era of heavy music it's fair to say 'metalcore' has a bit of an ugly connotation. Swedish metal riffs, breakdowns, and tough guy posturing are traits run through the ringer, but seemingly in response to such lazy rehashing, bands that arguably derive from that genre are finally taking chances and producing impressive, ambitious albums.
When Poison the Well delve into their standard, heavy groove on Versions, it sounds worlds more intense, honest, and convicted than what they've already been heralded for laying to tape on a number of previous albums. Cuts like opener "Letter Thing" are just that: cuts, and deep ones at that. In that particular song, a brief, speedy riff precedes Jeffrey Moreira alternately shouting, bellowing, and screaming lines that race across the track, and his accompanying cacophony does not let up for a pointless breakdown -- it's just unadulterated, full throttle for those three minutes, albeit with a slightly slowed down bridge section which even then gallops along with a unique, loose edge. "Composer Meet Corpse" is Snapcase basted in distortion and a consequential chokehold all the same.
An elaborate array of instrumentation, with everything from banjo to keyboards to horns, adds a mild country flair to some of Versions' experimental breaks, of which there's quite a few. "Slow Good Morning" is one of the most bizarre, pounding with mighty, Isis-like riffs and a comfortable twang throughout; it's a ballad for an Icelandic saloon if there ever was one. "Riverside" is equally appropriate for an old-fashioned Western showdown. Much like Boy Sets Fire's "So Long and Thanks for the Crutches," the horns are completely unexpected when used and yet, complement the songs' eerie, sadistic vibes; the same could likely be said for the other multiple instruments wielded. Many of these more odd takes last for quite a few minutes, but their creepy, entrancing moods offer a strangely calculated restraint to Versions' otherwise intense outlook. "Nagaina" lets classic/prog-styled riffs wail away while Moreira tiptoes through the track singing in a completely non-ironic, non-cheesy style, and that's important: So many bands opt to clean singing simply for the radio-friendly chorus, but when Poison the Well do it, it's merely pushing the band into darker, more menacing and unfamiliar waters. If Poison the Well isn't 'relaxing' for an entire track's duration front to back, however, it's because Moreira is breaking out in a vein-busting fit, as in "Breathing's for the Birds" when he abruptly spits "no matter the things I say / I've cared for you all my life"; he unloads like this quite often, too, and the dynamic it provides Versions with is unmatched.
It seems as though Poison the Well let a severe Glassjaw inspiration lie dormant for several years and finally unleashes it here as well. Many of Versions' more atmospheric, practically space-rock numbers are doused with a heavy Worship and Tribute scent. However, the harder songs sometimes receive the same treatment -- the shaky blast of "Prematurito el Baby" shanks with the panicking clatter of factory metal riffs. Additionally, when Moreira croons, it's often in careful, measured bursts parallel to Daryl Palumbo's sultry warble (i.e. "Pleading Post"); in fact, the aforementioned pair of "Slow Good Morning" and "Riverside" sounds exactly like the Head Automatica pop prince is guesting on the tracks. But even when Moreira steps back momentarily in Poison the Well's straight-up hardcore metal rumbles he also flashes shades of a signature Palumbo freakout session.
With its cadet blue icebergs adorning its digipak artwork, Versions wouldn't look completely out of place in a Hydra Head Records catalog when one considers it's the home of much of Cave In's discography. It's this kind of presentation and overall quality that makes Versions special -- nevermind it's authored by a veteran band (whittled down to three members, no less) who helped usher in the new wave of a sound only to abandon it, destroy it, and rework it from the ground up.
Breathing's for the Birds
The Notches That Create Your Headboard