Sound — 8
Though musically, Alesana started out as the many other bands of the screamo trend who emulated The Used a decade ago, the band would essentially excel in the lyrical department compared to their peers. Instead of writing boilerplate heartbreak songs or mosh-pit fodder of hardcore machismo, founding members Shawn Milke and Dennis Lee wrote their music inspired by the likes of revered literature - their debut album, "On Frail Wings of Vanity and Wax," embedded itself in Greek mythology, whereas their second album, "Where Myth Fades to Legend," was heavily inspired by Grimm's Fairy Tales.
After their second album, Alesana felt the desire to substantially up their game, both musically and lyrically. Their third album, 2010's "The Emptiness," would have the band reaching further towards a neo-classical rock opera mindset in their composition (progressive screamo, if you will), and would be the first concept album of a trilogy, inspired by Edgar Allen Poe's final poem, "Annabel Lee," of whom one of the main characters is named after. Like their other albums, "The Emptiness" as a whole was inspired by numerous themes of Poe's work, and the second installment to the Annabel trilogy, 2011's "A Place Where the Sun is Silent," would take heavy inspiration from Dante Alighieri's "Inferno." Sonically, it showed Alesana easing back on their old screamo elements and investing more into orchestral elements, with many considering it to be their most mature-sounding album of the band's catalog; albeit being the most long-winded album of theirs as well.
Though it took a lot more time to write and produce compared to their previous two albums, Alesana have now released their fifth album, and final installment of the Annabel trilogy, "Confessions." Musically, the band step away from the particularly tame post-hardcore sound of the previous album, and crank up the harsh energy back to the levels found in their earlier albums. Songs like "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night," "The Acolyte," "Comedy of Errors" and "The Martyr" wield the bipolar swapping between heavy sceamo sections and smooth melodic sections akin to the compositional style primarily heard in "The Emptiness," whereas the straightforward and tame "Fatal Optimist" and the jazzy interlude in "Oh, How the Mighty Have Fallen" call back to the style found in "A Place Where the Sun Is Silent." Screamo-style tapping guitar melodies and breakdowns make a triumphant return in the album (both of which were substantially absent from the previous album), but if anything, the MVP of "Confessions" is bassist Shane Crump, who weaves the most active and interesting basslines found in any Alesana record, helping step up the band's polyphony levels.
Alesana have also toned back on the orchestral elements, wielding them with less heavy-handed grandeur than what was heard in their previous two albums, and the stark narration is also reduced to a minimum. Though these amendments of reservation are a plus, Alesana still throw some questionable curveballs - "Through The Eyes of Uriel" cribs the nursery rhyme melody of "Ring Around the Rosie" and brandishes a small but off-kilter doo-wop moment, and the penultimate vocal stanza of "Catharsis" has Milke singing in a monotone staccato - almost rap-like - fashion. And with Alesana adamant on stacking melodic hardcore choruses with metalcore sections, gentle interludes, orchestral breaks and so on, some of the longer-running songs come off a bit self-indulgent - both "The Puppeteer" and "Catharsis" run over the 7-minute mark, and both could've benefitted from slimming down.
Lyrics — 10
With "Confessions" being the final installment of the ongoing Annabel trilogy spanning through the last two Alesana records, the main goal for the story here is to tie up loose ends from the previous albums and conclude everything - of course, as each album prior has ended in "Inception"-style mindf--kery, "Confessions" wraps everything up with, well, even more mindf--kery. Primarily, "Confessions" has the main character, The Artist, traveling through time and space, revisiting several scenes from "The Emptiness" and "A Place Where the Sun is Silent," to try and save himself and Annabel from their horrible fate.
Apropos of Alesana's ongoing theme of paying homage to famous literature in each album, the concept of time travel in "Confessions" is inspired by Madeline L'Engle's first book of the Time Quintet series, "A Wrinkle in Time" - with references to the tesseract, the fifth-dimensional tool used for time travel, as well as using the keystone line behind its utility in "Oh, How the Mighty Have Fallen" ("A straight line is not the shortest distance between two points"). However, plenty of other references converge here as well. Some are new, like the depiction of Annabel turning from Fatima (a synonym for the Virgin Mary) to Rusalka (a cursed sprite whose love kills a prince in the eponymous opera), and some are old, like the references to Poe that reprise the theme of "The Emptiness" in "Paradox" ("What's behind the bricks? / Who's rapping at my chamber door? / Pendulum, why do you torment me?"), as well as in "Catharsis" ("Your telltale heart is beating... Our love will nevermore attach your soul to mine"), and they even manage to call back to the theme of the band's debut album in "The Puppeteer" ("Spread your wings and grab the sun / oh sweet vanity, my favorite sin").
Beyond all these references, though, the best way to summate what's going on in "Confessions" is the famous quote about insanity: "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Because the storylines in the past two albums were just dreams, The Artist isn't traveling back in time, but rather, relapsing in psychosis. Compelled to replay the horrific scenarios he had dreamt before in an attempt to reshape fate - "Oh, How the Mighty Have Fallen" reprises the scene of the "A Place Where the Sun Is Silent" song "Beyond the Sacred Glass," "Through the Eyes of Uriel" reprises the scenes of "Welcome to the Vanity Faire" and "The Wanderer," and "Paradox" puts a spectacle on the moment before Annabel stabs The Artist in the side in "The Emptiness" - ultimately, The Artist renders himself to relive these past atrocities without any ability to change them, falling into the exact same emotions and behaviors as he did the first time around - like his spiteful but unwavering lust towards Annabel in "The Goddess," and his begging for the mercy of death in "Through the Eyes of Uriel."
As several lyrics throughout the album allude to The Artist's entire world being an illusion, the big reveal at the end is that there was no actual person named Annabel who existed. Just like the dispute of Poe's "Annabel Lee" being unclear as to whom Annabel Lee actually was or whom she was inspired by, the physical manifestation Annabel in Alesana's concept could be a past memory of a person constantly projecting in The Artist's head, or perhaps was just a manifestation of The Artist. It's more likely that the answer is the latter, though, because foremost, Annabel represents an ideal - an unattainable one, at that. In "The Emptiness," The Artist's sanity spins out of control when Annabel's life has been taken from him, acting in derangement in the interest of keeping her memory alive and getting vengeance upon the killer - this establishes The Artist's inability to function properly without a grasp on his ideal. In "A Place Where the Sun Is Silent," The Artist is in constant pursuit of Annabel, enduring horrific scenario after next all in his desire to have Annabel - this articulates The Artist pushing himself to every limit in order to attain his ideal. The shared theme between these two storylines is that The Artist is driven to madness because of Annabel - more specifically, that he can't have Annabel. The Artist blames Annabel, the ideal, for his flawed behavior; he cannot have this ideal, so he is driven to destroy. "Confessions" connects these two poles of destroying his ideal (in "A Place Where the Sun Is Silent") and being destroyed by his ideal (in "The Emptiness") by revealing that it was he who created all of these events, showing the psychotic instability of The Artist, and his mental and physical breakdown being his own doing - as the final line of the album articulates ("Did man even notice as he was erased?").
Overall Impression — 9
As susceptible as Alesana are to being brushed off as sophomoric screamo/metalcore, their conceptual ambitions have proven that there's more going on underneath the screams and chugs, and with the completion of the Annabel trilogy, "Confessions" puts Alesana on a whole new level above the lot of bands that practice the same music. Compositionally, the album shows Alesana coming strong on all fronts with few drawbacks, but more importantly, the album's way of completing the Annabel story is an astounding head-trip. Not settling for a clean and tidy ending, it drums up several layers and themes that require an extensive amount of analysis to figure out, and the cross-referencing to earlier points in the story breathes more intrigue into the band's previous two albums of the trilogy. Whether you see it as a screamo album, a lyrically-heady album, or the final act of Alesana's concept trilogy, "Confessions" succeeds with flying colors.