As Cities Burn’s Hell or High Water – Album Review

Pretend you are reading the encylopaedia—a vast piece of writing containing all the world’s knowledge—and remember that it is organized alphabetically. There is no segue to tie each entry to another; no cohesiveness to make sense of one tragedy before reading an entry about the successful uprising of an oppressed people. Now, imagine yourself listening to an album, which touches upon a whole crapload of genres and infinite moods, and it sounds effortlessly right. Enter As Cities Burn, a band of musical brothers hailing from Louisiana who have presented forth an album of epic proportions, fittingly titled Hell or High Water.

During the period of three months, ACB compiled their collective spirit and produced an album that transcends almost every other attempt at a fusion of rock, indie, progressive… you get the idea. Take their last album, Come Now Sleep, and strip it. Strip the busy and stifle some instrumentals. The band has said “We create music that we love, and hopefully that you’ll love, or connect to in some way.” Hell or High Water embodies that statement. There are no gimmicks attached to their music, nor any attempts at recreating any other band’s sound. They have matured enough to realize that good music comes from the soul, not what the scene is saying.

Hell or High Water is an album chronicling their sincere progression into an established sound no other band can mimic. Cody Bonnette chants philosophically about growth, both human and divine, as Chris Lott (guitar), Colin Kimble (bass), and Aaron Lunsford (percussion) bounce musical statements, with their respective instruments, back and forth in a monumentally articulate fashion. Each song has twists and turns to suit the ever atmospheric tone the album strikes. Diversity runs rampant throughout the nine-track disc, offering an assortment of sounds to keep the listener enthralled during the entire album, along with the bonus song “Gates”, which takes the album to a complete and engaging end.

From beginning to finish, Hell or High Water rings an honest bell tinged with genuine observations about life, love, music, and the hereafter. As Cities Burn never ceases to experiment musically or vocally, covering all the bases. Bonnette’s vocals are nothing short of brilliant, bringing each song to completely higher level of musicality. Dive into the first song off the album, “84’ Sheepdog”, which is the utter opposite of an ode to connivers. ACB tackles the disc with crafty melodies and arrangements, showcasing each member’s field of expertise. At no point does the album taper off into irrelevance, as it sustains its initial sting of fast-paced rock, tweaked with a little bit of post-hardcoreness. Kimble’s thumping basslines are the perfect supplement to Lott’s distorted guitar riffs. “Errand Rum” is among the lighter tracks on the album, proving that a little brass instrumentation never hurts anyone. If you’re ready for a painfully beautiful demonstration of vocal brilliance, tune to track 3, titled “Into the Sea”. The song explores what seems to be one’s search for faith in a world teeming with weakness and gloom. Stepping into an upbeat mix of indie’s shyness and rock’s pounce, “Capo” is a great demonstration of Lunsford’s percussive abilities, along with Kimble’s chance at lead vocals. Their Christian outlook also aids in the development of each song, peering for answers to solve life’s woes.

Throw in a dash of ambition, a few drops of transition, and As Cities Burn has a laudable album in their meticulous hands. Compassion flows viscously and effortlessly, confirming that heart goes a lot farther than conformity. They may not have a hit pop single on their progressive hands, and it definitely does not seem like it was their intention to, either. This is not your typical album for a band that has already reinvented themselves more times than Cher has announced farewell tours. It’s a collection of thought-provoking pieces dying to be played and admired for their uniqueness. Kudos to As Cities Burn for breaking out of the musical cast which so many bands have been trying to pour themselves into, while still producing an album which is memorable, inventive, and spine-chilling.

Hell or High Water is available for purchase on April 21st, 2009 through Tooth and Nail Records. As Cities Burn deserves nothing but applause for their accumulated piece of musical perfection.

Rating: 9.99/10 or 10/10. The latter.

Bernarda Gospic

Photographer and writer who relishes in capturing experiences both visually and in words.

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