Don't let the name fool you. Although taking their moniker from a "Back to the Future" reference, November 5, 1955 is neither a joke nor reactionary in any way. Rather, this post-hardcore/experimental group serves as a muscular intellectual outlet for members of fellow MA-based bands Sluts and the Carrier. In contrast, however, to those bands' more straightforward approach, November 5, 1955 ducks and curves through a multitude of angular riffs, odd time signatures and dense, grooving interludes. In other words, this band has chops and rocks out, but don't try to bob your head along during the first listen.
The band is sonically most reminiscent of Shai Hulud and At the Drive-In, bringing the aggression and tone of the first group with the wildness and experimentalism of the latter. But what immediately sets the band apart from contemporaries is the raw musicianship on full display. Each member has masterful control of their instrument and the band slides effortlessly between complex counterpoints and unified heavy rhythms. Furthermore, they manage to impart influence from every major player in the punk/hardcore/post-hardcore/emo world. Throughout the many ideas touched on the album, you can hear a little Fugazi, a little Converge, a little Dillinger Escape Plan, a little Botch, etc. However, the fearlessness the band imparts leads to an entirely original sound. Few bands will ever attempt this style, mostly because few bands will ever be this skilled.
Unlike some bands, lack of ideas is clearly not a problem as each track offers countless riffs and sections, all expertly performed with style and precision. It can be a lot to take in at first, leaving the listener numb or exhausted wishing for more repetition and less variation, but upon repeated listening the focus of the band begins to coalesce and appreciation sets in. Underneath the difficult outer layer, this is actually a very enjoyable and rewarding record.
Vocalist and guitarist Jay Maas, who is probably better known for his production work on recent albums by Shipwreck A.D. and Soul Control, utilizes a solid melodic scream to frame lyrics that are surprisingly dark for a band with such an odd name and flexible sound. The first track, "The Ambassador of Sarajevo" opens with two and a half minutes of instrumental work (including eight different riffs or sections -- I counted) before bursting with the damning call, "Here we are again. Let me be the first to say, you're weak beyond repair." The acrid tone of these words is matched by a raw intensity of delivery.
Later, on standout track "Jelly Side Down," Maas deals with unnamed family issues in a startlingly honest way reminiscent of Daryl Palumbo's lyrical purging on Glassjaw's debut, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Silence. While the musical chops of the band will likely remain the focus, the lyrics and vocal approach are just as strong and effective.
Unfortunately, this will probably be one of the best unheard records of 2008. With an odd band name and album title, ultimately demanding music, and seeing a release on Metal Blade imprint Ironclad, November 5, 1955's debut release, Bears of the Sea will likely be passed over by the crowd who would most enjoy it. This is a shame because it offers a refreshing take on the current landscape of music and displays musical sense light years beyond 99% of current bands. If you like smart and aggressive music that never rests on cliché, do yourself a favor and check this band out, although it may take a few listens.