Sound — 9
Icarus The Owl is a band you probably haven't heard of, so I'll try to summarize the math-rock/pop-punk quartet as easily as possible; imagine if All Time Low and Protest The Hero had a musical baby. Icarus The Owl offers tapping lead riffs and frequent time changes with pop-punk melodies and lyrical themes. They're a unique, and certainly interesting bunch, and their third album, funded by the fans, is an excellent entry to their catalog.
The self-titled effort starts off with the track "Ignore Check Engine Lights" a somewhat disorienting start, which, if nothing else, will give new listeners a good idea of what they're in for. While it's certainly nothing bad, the real strength of the band comes after that, with "Black Fish" and "Dethroned" showing the band's strengths in both diverse song structure and musical virtuosity.
It should be noted that this is the first album where lead guitarist AJ Stacher wrote and recorded his own parts, instead of standing in for what lead singer/guitarist Joey Rubenstein had already provided. If you go back to the band's previous album (which you should, it's excellent) "Love Always, Leviathan" to try and find a discernible difference, there's not much outside of production. There's just as much talent and melody, but the lead guitars in the album are noticeably low in a few song's mixes, and it's a bit disappointing, but not necessarily something that hurts the songs themselves.
In fact, a few of these songs are nothing short of outstanding. "Black Fish" shows a raw energy that's not in many other tracks, "Chronos, the Destroyer" offers a passionate delivery and an excellent mix that really helps it shine on its first listen, and "Touchstone" shows the band's ability to communicate nostalgia at its musical best. The real standout track, though, is "The Pharmacist."
Icarus The Owl has shown in the past, namely with the final two perfect tracks in their last album, "Chemicals and Flesh" and the title track "Love Always, Leviathan" that their music can take you for a spin, and despite their genre can create an outstanding musical climax and a sense of sheer energy and excitement. "The Pharmacist" is no exception to this, giving the listener 8 minutes of unabated musical bliss. Its guitar work is excellent, and the way it builds is just as great. Its passion and power help to set it apart from the rest of the album, but it's also different enough from "Leviathan" to show that the band isn't just a one-trick pony when it comes to strong finishes.
Unfortunately, the songs aren't without their faults. "Flint and Stone" is a strong track that's weighed down by its inability to settle on a pace, with the chorus being sung in three different, anti-climactic ways. It's a bit frustrating when a band builds adrenaline only to stop cold in the middle of a song. I can appreciate a need for diversity, but in this case, it keeps the song from being one of the strongest cuts on the album. Another, "This Too Will Pass" seems out of place, like the band was reaching for something it's not really comfortable finding. I appreciate the effort it takes for a band to try and move out of their comfort zone, but sometimes it falls short. That's not to say these are album-breaking faults, but they're noticeable enough that they should be brought up.
Lyrics — 7
Joey Rubenstein is an odd lyricist to judge. He writes about a variety of themes in a variety of timeframes, offering more than your standard heartbreak lyrics while still staying familiar enough that we can connect. However, there are times when he seems to fall flat, which is odd, considering that the following line can be something that blows you away. "Crimson Covered Walls" is an excellent example of this, offering the horrid cliche of "They don't know the person inside of me. My only friends are those I've deceived." He more than makes up for this later in the song with "The knife that's in your back, dear. Were you protecting your life, or taking anothers? They loved themselves to death, you know? Who am I to cast a stone at brittle bones?" It's a great line, Rubenstein's full of them, he just needs to leave out the cliches that hurt his otherwise gold star songwriting.
In terms of vocals, Rubenstein has definitely improved in both range and tone. The band's debut, "The Spotless Mind" was somewhat rough around the edges, and while "Love Always, Leviathan" was a stride above and showed real progression, the self-titled album shows real advancement, with Rubenstein's range and confidence seemingly improving a great deal.
Unfortunately, with that confidence come an increase in vocals. One problem I found myself having after about a dozen playthroughs of this album was that Rubenstein's voice was suffocating the music. There's not a lot of room for the songs to breathe, with very few segments not being sung over. There's no atmosphere or blatant showings of excellent instrumentality. In fact, the only major examples of it are in "The Pharmacist" and "The Monster Within" and they're excellent. These are talented musicians who are capable to doing a lot with their instruments, but because of the mix and Rubenstein's constant singing soaring above anything else, new listeners would be hard-pressed to truly appreciate that band's ability.
Overall Impression — 8
I don't want to give off any false impressions, this is a good album. This may even be a great album. It shows promise and progression, something that a band needs if it plans to gain new fans while still keeping their old ones interested. It's certainly not the showing "Love Always, Leviathan" was, but Icarus The Owl manages to keep away from the cliche of floundering third albums by showing up with 13 solid tracks of math-pop-punk showcasing excellent rhythms, catchy vocals, and a range of talents that hold down each instrument. This is a band equipped to withstand time, assuming they're willing to work out the few kinks in their music, instead of exacerbating them in the future, and if you haven't you should definitely give them a listen.