You didn't think you'd still be hearing about Alexisonfire in 2009, did you?
To be frank, I didn't either. I've followed the St. Catherines quintet since ".44 Caliber Love Letter" first overpowered the speakers on the relic of a computer I had back in 2002, and I loved every second of the brash, screamy hardcore that George Pettit and co. brought to my life. But it never occurred to me they'd be a band with staying power. A band who could adapt to the changing of the musical times and their own growing influences.
Color me wrong. So very, very wrong.
Alexisonfire is back with Old Crows, Young Cardinals -- their fourth full-length -- and they're writing songs with staying power. With passion. With gravitas. With a renewed sound and sense of songwriting. This ain't your daddy's (er, older brother's) Alexisonfire.
Apparent from the get-go is the band's increased punk influence. The guitars are muddier, the vocals -- from Pettit, Dallas Green and Wade McNeil -- more scratchy, the drums louder. The album's leadoff, "Old Crows" is a ravaging three-and-a-half minutes that balances Wade's low, gruff screams, Dallas' incredible vocal range and an unbelievably diverse rhythm section. It's a more complex sound than they've attempted before, and Pettit says as much himself; "Now, we are not the kids we used to be."
Across the entire album are themes of transition, as Pettit eloquently suggests on "Young Crows":
Old crows ride in the mouth of the beast, sleep beneath its tongue, cradled by its teeth / We roam from shore to shore, from the open sky, to the ocean floor / The more we move, the less we are ourselves and when we finally stop, we've changed to something else."Part of that transition, besides adopting a more punk-based sound, includes balancing the melody of Green's impassioned vocals and the manic screams of Pettit and McNeil . The band started down that path on Crisis with songs like "Boiled Frogs," but many of their new songs see them perfecting the craft. "Born and Raised" is a rollicking, up-tempo song that kicks off with gruff vocals and short, choppy chord progressions before Green swoops in and lays down gorgeous vocals that happen in time with McNeil's background screams. As the progressions lengthen out and the clean guitar underneath comes to the forefront, Green breaks out and completely takes the song over, letting no one question his talents on the mic or the six-string. This is the new Alexisonfire. This is perfection in balance.
Much of that balance is achieved by juxtaposing McNeil's aggressive delivery with grandiose choruses, a tactic seen on "Heading for the Sun" that brings new meaning to the phrase â??flawless execution.' The first verse is one of the band's most aggressive; McNeil digs deep to dredge up every bit of fire he's got and the instrumentation is dark and laden with distortion. The second verse is Green letting his vocals rise fully above some slick guitar work, and just when things quiet towards the end, McNeil re-enters the fray with ample distortion before Green swoops in one last time to take the track out on a plateau.
Fans of the band's previous albums can also feel relieved knowing that Pettit's scathing vocals haven't been forgotten; they bookend the powerful "Sons of Privilege" and punctuate the rhythmic peaks and valleys of "The Northern." He may not be the face of the band as he was on Alexisonfire, but his voice has matured and his timing has improved to the point where every appearance he makes on the album comes at an absolutely perfect point.
There's something so satisfying about listening to a band you've followed from the beginning grow into such a dynamic and talented outfit. I don't know where Alexisonfire is headed musically or how long they'll be around for; I don't know if the lineup will stay the same or they'll get bored of writing this kind of music and switch to pan-flute music tomorrow.
What I do know is decidedly more concrete -- this is one of the best bands currently making music, and if you're late in finding out, there's plenty of room left on that train.