Life in Your Way | Kingdoms

Released on: 25 October 2011
They’re from: Connecticut
Sounds like: the soundtrack to Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Hear it: here!

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It’s official: Life in Your Way are back, and it’s like they never left. After Waking Giants topped 2007’s end of the year charts, the band, melodic hardcore giants in their own right, went on an indefinite hiatus and left a gaping hole in their wake. So it’s no wonder that in April when the band announced that they would be not only reuniting, but self-releasing a three-EP collection called Kingdoms via Kickstarter, fans were falling over themselves to donate to the worthy cause. Life in Your Way ended up meeting their goal of $12,500 in just 3 days, eventually raising roughly double their goal, and after a long summer, Kingdoms is finally due to drop on Tuesday. Kickstarter backers already have their copies (it’s beautiful), and the three EPs can be bought together any time. What’s more remarkable is that thanks to their Kickstarter campaign that eschewed a traditional label release, Life in Your Way are giving away their new EPs in staggered releases. Those who don’t want to spend the money (or pirate), will be able to download The Kingdom of Man from Come and Live, proving that you don’t have to be Radiohead to give your music away and not end up destitute.

The big question is, of course, did the fans get what they paid (or didn’t pay) for? While it’s been four years since their last official release, Life in Your Way haven’t lost a step. In fact, Kingdoms is easily the most musically diverse effort the band has produced; but not in the gimmicky, intensely separate sense that holds back Thrice’s The Alchemy Index or The Dear Hunter’s The Color Spectrum for many listeners. The three EPs: The Kingdom of Man, The Kingdom of Darkness, and The Kingdom of God, though each is a unique musical beast, have the distinct feel of being one coherent Life in Your Way release, and not just  an experiment in form. This of course invites us to question, then, why even split the thirteen songs into separate EPs when they’d fit on one album, as neither The Alchemy Index or The Color Spectrum would. It’s probably an interesting discussion too, but I think launching into a discussion of The Kingdom of Man will probably be a more rewarding use of everyone’s time.

The Kingdom of Man careens out of the gate with Josh Kellam at the reigns, his undeniably unique screams breaking the silence of four years, “Forever! The concept is heavy, the truth about it so hard to grasp. This place, my will, words, decisions are here and now, but I will never hold onto forever!” Despite the heavier leanings of “Forever,” the band’s signature melody isn’t lost on “Blind in Retrospect” or “Growth in Passion.” Both songs have choruses so infectious they should be quarantined. Musically, The Kingdom of Man is, fittingly, the middle ground between The Kingdom of Darkness and The Kingdom of God. But the greatest difference between the three EPs isn’t musical—it’s actually the lyrical content, and the tone. The Kingdom of Man is rife with proclamations of strength and resolution in the face of weakness, though many lyrics are inquisitive, “Bound by the things we’ve done, is there hope for change? This love it cannot be contained, I see growth in passion, I have passion for change.” However, the final track of the EP, “Forsaken Me,” is riddled with doubt, “Will you speak to me? Is there more? There must be more…” The song darkens considerably and draws to a close with Kellam shouting, “Purpose, drive me on! Overthrow! Purpose, drive me on! Purpose, renew…” A perfect musical and thematic segue into The Kingdom of Darkness.

“Darkness!” it begins, “I thought I knew who I was.” On the second EP of Kingdoms the melodious leads the band are known for take a backseat to oppressive heaviness and a series of East Coast-rattling breakdowns, just as the lyrics which were once teeming with hope now speak of struggle and pain. Kellam screams, “Darkness will… Steal! Kill! Destroy!” and, on “Swarm,” he compares the swarming darkness to a plague of locusts that “Will eat your flesh, drink your blood, and crush your humanity!” Despite the musical tone change, The Kingdom of Darkness stagnates. “Ruler of the Air” manages to set itself apart, and “Take Notes” breaks off a few promising guitar riffs, but “Swarm” and “Buried Idols” end up blending together, until the latter track comes to a full rest and is injected with a heavy dose of groove, but in direct contrast to the previous, well-executed musical and thematic transition, “Buried Idols” limply fades into silence. 

The Kingdom of God begins with “Induction,” a minute-long monologue, cataloging all the various and sundry, even salacious, individuals who are welcome in God’s kingdom, the message being, quite simply, “The Kingdom of God is for everyone.” There’s an acute attention to alliteration and repetition, good rhetorical devices, but the writing ultimately feels haphazard and ham-fisted. Though, if nothing else, it’s passionate and real.

Despite the lack of transition out of The Kingdom of Darkness, the lyrics that begin The Kingdom of God proper speak of progress and salvation, “This, is who I am! …Now called a son, I’ve been set free from the slavery of sin. And when I fall, I stand in the face of darkness and I say: This, is who I am!” Musically, The Kingdom of God might be the closest in spirit to Waking Giants. On this EP the band pays a great deal of attention to anthemic, almost hymnal sung sections, the first of which comes right on the heels of the limp fade-out that ended the last EP. “Who I Am” builds itself into a chorus of gangs, proclaiming “This is who I am, all I’ve been and who I’ve become. This is who I am, who I am, I’m a son!” To say that the Kingdom of God is the most spirit-filled and uplifting EP on Kingdoms would be an understatement. 

But don’t think that The Kingdom of God is a round of “Kumbayah” around a campfire. “Like a River” brings back the heaviness in a big way, and despite the clean chorus and massive gang chant, the band drops a breakdown the kingdom of darkness can probably feel as Kellam shouts “Flowing, like water! Streams, of living water! Putting! Out! Deadly! Fires!” “The Healer” follows, and it may just be my favorite track. On top of the great leads and nimble drumwork, the lyrics exude a power even the most secular can appreciate, “By His stripes we are healed, by His spirit we can heal the sick, raise the dead, and cleanse lepers, cast out demons. With a confessing tongue and a mustard seed, we can move the earth!” The song is mostly sung, but the ending is of epic proportions, combining cleans, gangs, and screams into a swirling surge of warmth. 

Kingdoms closes with “The Ascension.” Kellam sits the song out, and lilting cleans and waves of picked, delayed guitar take over. This final song is once again full of questions, as in “Forsaken Me,” but instead of falling into despair, this time, the song ends with “And when we call upon Your holy name, hell can’t stand against the power in us,” and an optimistic, instrumental drift that carries Kingdoms to a close. It is a poignant, transformative final line to an ambitious release. While I think a few songs could’ve benefitted from some further development, despite its short writing cycle, Kingdoms feels like a complete and unified release. There’s real passion and heart behind the lyrics, and the music exudes drive and progression. In Kingdoms, Life in Your Way have released their most intensely spiritual album yet, but have backed up their message with instrumentation so tight and developed that it doesn’t feel like just a Christian album. It feels like a passionate and literate melodic hardcore album with a much broader appeal. Life in Your Way are back, with a message, and a purpose, and won’t be denied.

Modern American Theatre | Your Rage is Attractive

This’ll be up over at Decoymusic soon, but they’re releasing this album tomorrow, so I figured I’d grace the internet a little early.

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Modern American Theatre aren’t fighting fair. Having released their debut EP We Could Make a House in November of last year, they’ve followed it up with Your Rage is Attractive, which is also their debut EP. Feeling thoroughly Tarantinoed? Your Rage is Attractive is a collection of the band’s earliest songs, recorded in the luxurious studio El Cuarto Del Their-Guitarist-Justin-Bardales. However, the band temporarily shelved these recordings in favor of releasing We Could Make a House. Yeah, most new bands struggle to put together a half-decent four or five song EP, and Modern American Theatre’s deck is so stacked that they tabled an impressive 7-track EP in favor of an outstanding 8-track EP. Luckily for fans and newcomers alike, Your Rage is Attractive is finally seeing the light of day— bathed in June’s early summer sun. The EP is at once both an interesting snapshot of Modern American Theatre’s evolution as songwriters and a quality entry into the short but promising beginnings of the band’s discography. 

Despite the light and airy opening seconds of lead-off track “Pow! Gasol,” it’s quickly apparent that early Modern American Theatre tracks had a heavier backbone of chunky synth, bass and effect-laden guitars. The track’s driving chorus and proggy solo showcase a meatier, less nimble brand of indie rock, not unlike vintage, Highly Refined Pirates-era Minus the Bear. The following song and single, “I’ve Heard of Them, But I Haven’t Heard Them,” though, sounds more like the evolutionary bridge between Your Rage is Attractive and We Could Make a House. Equally heavy on synth, but with more agile guitar work, the song bounces along, underscoring the sunny charm of Natalie Diaz’s infectious vocals.

“You Made Me Ink!” and “Berlin Reunited and It Feels So Good” return to the band’s old-Minus the Bear-drenched roots (even the way they name their tracks), which is a mixed blessing. Honestly, if there’s any band that needs to be emulated more, it’s Minus the Bear, but I do appreciate just how unique Modern American Theatre’s sound has become on We Could Make a House.

That of course isn’t to say that Your Rage is Attractive isn’t worthy on its own. The instrumentation is still top notch, with several instruments often working in harmony while another forges its own melody—all while Diaz’s vocals rise and alight like a weaving flock of birds. This dynamic comes to a head in “Arms Akimbo Slice” following the bright and brooding, synthy bridge; the whole band comes in full force following the placid interlude, and Diaz delivers one of her most powerful vocal performances across either album.

Bottom line, if you like your indie rock on the mathy side (or you like Minus the Bear) Your Rage is Attractive is a ridiculously fun listen from a talented new band that deserves to be heard. And hey, they’ve also got We Could Make a House available too. Really, with two debut EPs to pick and choose from, you can’t go wrong.