Strap in. Along Came a Spider’s new record “Resurgence” is a twisting ride. Dive in when you’re ready.
Let’s rave over this record for a moment. The music for most of “Resurgence” is wonderful in every meaning of the word. One small knock to get out of the way – the record is a handful of cuts too long; the band runs out of tricks by the end and starts to loop back on themselves. Moving on. Along Came a Spider has composed an album of musical concepts that deserve heavy accolades. The music is varied and pronounced, powerful without being overbearing. It understands pacing, personality, phrasing and the use of open space. “Resurgence” never pigeonholes, always expressing versatility as well as creativity and innovation. It incorporates elements of metal, hardcore and rock, sewing in seeds like piano lines, gang choruses, twin guitar harmony, electronic overlays, power chords, anything and everything. Often on this site, we lament a band’s single mindedness, saying ‘wouldn’t it have been nice if they’d pushed the envelope a little?’ Well, Along Came a Spider did, writing riffs that are hooky and accessible while turned to eleven.
The vacillation between hook and pulverization in “Wanderlust” demonstrates an elevated level of understanding in songwriting, as the song lays a solid bass foundation and then stacks up a thrash style riff on top of it for the bridge and chorus. Alternatively, that same bass is placed against and airy piano soliloquy for “A Siren’s Call,” that mix being immediately followed by a melodic guitar harmony. That kind of skillful balance is hard to find, and is dotted through time and again during the experience of “Resurgence.” “In Oblivion” takes the concepts from both of those songs and mashes them into one even larger experience. The composition here is top notch, and hell, even the lyrics are passably intelligent.
So….what’s the catch?
Here’s the catch – the vocal presentation is frankly awful. Lead vocalist Jamie Miller has just one tone and he persists in pushing it like a remote control with just one button. He is full bore, all the time, in your face. His vocals are always loud and that’s their distinguishing characteristic. The tone he has, and the style he delivers are utterly colorless and without variety. Certainly, as a back up weapon Miller, with the help of background vocalist Justin Sobota, will go for screaming and grunting, but these are mediocre and nothing more. (In their defense of this aspect, it’s easy to make an argument that no one grunts well.) The vocals are disjointed and/or flat to the point where it’s hard to listen to the whole record beginning to end. In each trip, you get as far as “Link to the Past” a little past the halfway point, before you need to turn it off. Coming back for the rest, “Slide” might be the worst offender of all, as Miller reaches for notes that just aren’t within his range, resulting in a broken wail that’s wince-worthy.
This is nowhere more evident than in juxtaposition with the fragile but poignant guest vocals of “Land On.” Where is this woman on the rest of the album? Her siren song is tuneful and while not revolutionary, fits the pocket of that song well, even around the slightly off-kilter lyrical phrasing. She might have changed the face of the experience with more exposure.
It’s possible to get around weak vocals and still make effective albums (the early Unearth records come to mind,) but only if the mix is adjusted appropriately. “Resurgence” shoves the vocals at you, always on top of the mix and unavoidable. Over time, the album can alternately be frustrating and headache-inducing.
Along Came a Spider’s new record is thus a ready-made conundrum. What a listener takes away from it will ultimately be decided by their tolerance for the performance of Jamie Miller. Musically, this band is top notch, nearly beyond reproach and that can’t be stressed enough. The old axiom holds here, so take these words seriously – rent before you buy.