As Cities Burn - Hell or High Water (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

As Cities Burn

Hell or High Water (2009)

Tooth & Nail

As Cities Burn started on the Solid State roster as playing a sound that was pretty typical of the label -- melodic, metallic, slick and screamy post-hardcore á la Beloved. They took an even more melodic turn on their following album, but now, with their third full-length, Hell or High Water is quite an unprecedented progression.

Hell or High Water better fits the mold of pensive and layered, quasi-indie rock that would put them comfortably on a bill with, say, Manchester Orchestra and Colour Revolt. While ACB don't ever necessarily sound like either of those bands (save the MO traces on "Pirate Blues"), there's something about the album -- Biblical references? Southern feel? -- and its carefully lush flow that conveys so many similar sonic qualities. There's perfectly tasteful amounts of auxiliary instrumentation scattered about the album, from tambourine to organ to other various keys, and even "bottles & file cabinets" at one point. It's not always the easiest to emotionally connect with leader Cody Bonnette's careful musings, but every song minimally maintains mildly mesmerizing moments.

With only nine linear, easily flowing tracks, standouts come in the form of the hook-laden "'84 Sheepdog," where Bonnette snarls "they fixed your brain when you were young," and the six-minute "Lady Blue." There's also "Pirate Blues," where guitars fuzz their way through, the drums carefully boom and Bonnette's fragile voice is put through a rigorous test with the energy and oddly upbeat tension leading him to corrosively howl "OHHHHH! Say you don't know if you don't!" by track's end. The sped-up Band-esque bridge is neat, too. Closer "Capo" has more versatile vocals and sort of a funky vibe -- it's cool, but it ends the album in a bizarrely abrupt fashion and one's left wondering where the band's hiding that epic finish.

Hell or High Water is merely a quietly pleasant and stylistically surprising effort from a band who's clearly solidified themselves as one of Tooth & Nail's more thoughtful and artistic acts.

'84 Sheepdog
Errand Run
Into the Sea
Pirate Blues