Sound — 8
From the beginning, Emery's compositional penchant was juxtaposing soft emo rock with heavy emocore; gentle guitar melodies switching to tough chords, the dulcet tones of frontman Toby Morrell and rhythm guitarist Devin Shelton switching into the harsh vocals of Morrell and keyboardist Josh Head, and so on. Though that dynamic style between gentle and strong isn't anything revolutionary, their style of songwriting would display more linear bouts of varied riffs rather than a cyclical verse-chorus-verse-chorus format, making their first two albums, "The Weak's End" and "The Question," stand out amongst their emocore peers.
However, Emery would deviate from that beginning style as a result of losing band members, getting more conventional in structure, but different in sound. After parting ways with imperative bassist Joel Green, as well as lead guitarist Matt Carter easing back on his role, 2007's "I'm Only a Man" would stress synthetic elements - investing more in synth arpeggios, dabbling with vocoder, and most questionably, sampling dance music beats, which expectedly made this their most ambivalently received album yet. After backpedaling from that experimentation with the post-hardcore recalibration of 2009's "...In Shallow Seas We Sail," Emery would lose another vital member when Shelton announced an indefinite hiatus from the band. With one of their key clean singers gone, the band would double down on harsh vocals and push the guitar strength into metalcore territory, making 2011's "We Do What We Want" their heaviest album to date.
Recent years would show Emery unofficially going on hiatus to attend to their respective side projects, as well as parting ways with Tooth & Nail Records, but this deconstruction would soon lead to a new lease on life for the band. Now on their sixth album, "You Were Never Alone," that new lease on life, cardinally, is Emery getting back in touch with their roots, and the album rehashes many sonic tropes of the band from over a decade ago. The linear style of songwriting heard in "The Weak's End" and "The Question" make a return in the heavy/soft bipolarity of "Thrash," "Pink Slip," and tandem finisher "Salvatore Wrytha" and "Alone," and even circuital songs like "The Beginning," "Taken for a Bath," and the gentler "Rock, Pebble, Stone" highlight the variance more than the cyclicity. Bass duties have been commandeered by Carter this time around, bringing back basslines that match the exemplary quality of the band's old bassist Joel Green (see "The Less You Say" and "The Beginning"), and with Shelton contributing vocals to the album, the clean vocal tag team of Morrell and Shelton makes its righteous return, delivering plenty of harmonies and polyphonic overlapping throughout the album.
As opposed to the "less guitar, more synth" recipe of "I'm Only a Man," this album takes the polar opposite route. Keyboard and synth elements are almost entirely devoid on "You Were Never Alone," leaving all the room for the standard band instruments to flourish. Emery play the blastbeat card for the first time ever in "Thrash" and "Go Wrong Young Man," the uncommon presence of bass chords are spotted in "What's Stopping You," but the biggest instrumental spotlight is on the medley of Carter's guitar parts. Along with dual tapping melodies that are reminiscent of early-era Minus The Bear and definitively one-up those heard in Emery's previous albums (not to mention they make a nice symmetrical match to the two-pronged vocal force of Morrell and Shelton), Carter ups the ante by employing an extensive use of tremolo picking, as well as mixing up the expected sounds, heard in the keyboard-esque flickering guitar in the beginning of "To the Deep," and the guitar harmonics heard in "The Beginning."
Lyrics — 8
Having dealt out his most Christian-oriented lyrics in Emery's previous album, "We Do What We Want," Morrell continues wielding his faith in "You Were Never Alone." Though he shows militant moments towards the prideful and selfish on some occasions, his voice spewing with rage in lines like "The lust of power takes you and the stench has settled in / You have ground your teeth craving control" in "Thrash," and "How dare we speak of future and boast of legacy" in "Go Wrong Young Man," Morrell identifies with his own imperfections as a harrowing but important fact to be in touch with in "Taken for a Bath," singing "That reflection in the water tells a story true / But it's the last thing you want staring back at you."
Ultimately, Morrell's Christian lyrics in "You Were Never Alone" are mostly interested in getting a firmer grip on his own faith and letting it be the answer to things he can't control. In the uncertainty of what the future holds, he highlights how his own actions in attempt to shape the future do more harm than good (singing "We were filling pools with ourselves and ambition / And here we are drowning out from our lives" in "To the Deep"), and how putting his trust in God to decide the future is best for him (singing "This life took me by the hand / God knows where you'll find yourself in the end" in "The Less You Say," and "So I sit here making my big plans / Like they could rescue me but now I see / The answer through my window"). And with plenty of Morrell's lyrics still gravitating towards the topic of death, he strives for peace of mind with the promise of Heaven, singing "The clouds, the clouds, the clouds, they take their shape / We dream that in their billows are answers to this place" in "Rock, Pebble, Stone."
Overall Impression — 9
While the big attraction of "You Were Never Alone" may be the revamping of the classic Emery style that had been out of commission for a while, what really makes the album a success is its ambition to be more than a simple callback to an old form. Using their previous albums as proper stepping stones - extracting some heaviness from "We Do What We Want," some softness from "I'm Only a Man" - as well as upping their game in nearly every instrumental department (save Head's poor keyboards collecting dust in the closet), "You Were Never Alone" displays Emery sounding better than ever before.