Guiltmaker - Dilemmas (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Dilemmas (2009)

Kiss of Death

Tampa's Guiltmaker have flown completely under the radar for the majority of their brief existence. 2006's Driven by Arms was an above-average yet somewhat unheralded debut, showcasing the band's unique-but-never-too-outlandish post-hardcore chops. The group's pedigree (featuring ex-members of Reversal of Man and Combat Wounded Veteran, among others) speaks for itself, but the music being played out here on their full-length debut, Dilemmas (finally out two years after the songs were recorded), is an entirely different type of beast from that which the band or its members have ever crafted. It's chaotic, dramatic and beautiful, and it captures the essence of what so many listeners loved about '90s post-hardcore and emo without ever sounding stale or retreaded. Simply put, it's the best record of the year that no one is talking about.

Distorted drums kick off (get it?) "Convocation," which then lead into spacey guitars accompanied by furiously pounding drums. The chorus features soaring vocals in front of said instrumentation, creating sounds that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Moneen's The Red Tree. Massively angular guitar work anchors "Falling Down"; ditto for the subtly driving "Lost Ship," which also relies heavily on an expertly yelled chorus paired with haunting background 'whoa's, as well as more impressive drumming by John Hayes.

Guiltmaker displays some healthy diversity on "Hold Back the Gravity," a slightly more subdued number that does a nice job of balancing melody and chaos; one gets the sense that the band could take the easy way out and blow everyone away with some huge crescendo of an ending here, but the restraint the band displays keeps the listener at attention and the song from sounding too similar to the others that surround it. Variety is the spice of life, kids. Guiltmaker knows this. "Thirty Days" is a little more straightforward than anything else on Dilemmas, but that's hardly an accusation of mediocrity; the track's soaring vocals and minimal, melodic chorus help it stand out and show that even when Guiltmaker elects to go at less than full speed, they can still convey their message in an wholly effective fashion. Strong vocal performances continue on the dreamy, excellent "Hemispheres."

If there's one brief misstep on Dilemmas, it's the final two minutes or so of the album's closing (and title) track. After a solid four-plus minutes of greatness in line with the rest of the album's material, the song devolves into an ending of distorted, nearly unlistenable noise. It's hard to say whether or not this was a fitting ending for a record so stunningly written and performed, a record that up to this point stayed interesting while never appearing too spontaneous for its own good. It's curious, to say the least, but hardly a condemnation of Dilemmas as a whole.

That Guiltmaker has been almost completely ignored by everyone is a shame, but it's never too late to make additions to one's year-end lists. And when a record as good as Dilemmas comes around, said list warrants amending.