Sound — 5
After a lengthy hiatus following "In the Unlikely Event," an album most considered a disappointment, The Fall of Troy took a lengthy hiatus. Andrew Forsman went back to school, Tim Ward, who had left the band after "Manipulator" bounced around solo projects, and Thomas released two decent albums with spin-off project Just Like Vinyl and played guitars on Chiodos' crash-and-burn disaster "Devil."
Following these efforts, the group reunited and took their time on a new album. The band spent 3 years carefully crafting a set of songs they knew would catapult themselves back in to relevancy and that soft spot in the heart of my high school self. But was this a successful venture? After releasing "OK" at 4:20 on 4/20, it's safe to say that... it really wasn't.
"OK" blasts in with "401K" a song that has a bit of punch but feels like a B-side from Just Like Vinyl. There's a good bit of jamming but nothing memorable in the gimmicky lyrics or stagnant melody, and that's a good preview for what the rest of the album will be.
Songs go by without a single catchy note or hard-hitting lyric. The lack of a talented producer and the freedom the band was given from any label scrutiny may seem like a welcome step forward, but it's a kiss of death for a band that's clearly past its prime, unable or unwilling to write another song that goes as hard as "Sledgehammer" or transitions as well as "Mouths Like Sidewinder Missiles." "Savior" sounds like nothing short of a mess, with disorganized guitars almost sounding out of step with the vocals, disorienting but in an unprofessional way rather than an engaging, hectic way. There are brief flashes of something noteworthy before it falls in to nothingness, disappointing like most of the album. "A Ode to Masochists" is a song I had to hear a few times just to remember for more than its grammatically incorrect name.
There are no good builds, no memorable intros (save for the closing track, "Your Loss," which is one of only two decent tracks), many tracks just start cold before devolving in to another listless jam that lacks any of the personality or variability of old. It just feels like demos, something that you'd send to someone who could TURN them in to something better, but no one was there to save them this time. Because of this The Fall of Troy is left with songs that feel aggressive enough but not refined enough to recapture any of their old magic.
They're not all bad, however. "Inside Out" is bristling with energy, full of those crunching, grating guitars that adorned "Manipulator," the great alternating screams of Thomas Erak and Tim Ward trading chorus lines, and layered vocals that made me think this album would be something more than it amounted to, which it didn't until "Your Loss" showed the band breaking out of its comfort zone, taking the time to experiment with different sounds and atmospheres, creating a sense of variety and ebb-and-flow that the album was lacking up until the very end.
Overall, it's not terrible, it's not terribly difficult to listen to, but everything just blends together. Songs generally follow a similar structure, which is strange for a prog/math outfit, and the songs never go far from where they start. When "Doppelganger" ended with "Macauly McCulkin," it felt like a journey. "A Man. A Plan. A Canal. Panama." was an adventure, but there are no adventures to be had with "OK," it's stagnant. Maybe part of that is the production? Maybe it's the lack of escalation or restraint the band shows in its extended jams. Whatever it "is" it ensures that the album "isn't," and keeps it from being as exciting as TFOT's past.
Lyrics — 4
Thomas Erak has always had a taste for the twisted in The Fall of Troy's lyrics, with "Macauly McCulkin," being a 7 minute meditation on a murder of passion, and the alliterative spew of "We Better Learn to Hotwire a Uterus" admittedly being about abortion. When he wasn't towing the line between edgy and dangerous fun, he was still able to treat us with passionate displays such as the crooning chorus of "Seattlantis." "Color ourselves, and shade you in lies. Talk you to sleep, on the other end of the line." or the final words of "Sledgehammer" where Erak gutwrenchingly corrects the narrative of a "picture perfect portrait of a boyfriend... Best friends? Oh, that's right..."
However, any of this character and emotion is lost in "OK." Where there was once emotion and a willingness to make a listener uncomfortable, there is now the opening line of "Side by Side" where Erak remembers that "she used to shake it on the dance floor, now she shakes at the hands." Erak's lyrics are now battered with cliches and tortured party girls. This isn't even a hyperbole, with the intro of "Your Loss" literally singing "at the start of the party she was so hard to read."
One of the failings of Just Like Vinyl seemed to be the loss of Thomas Erak's ability to twist words the way he used to, with an intellectual bit twisted charm. As time's gone on the man's edges have smoothed, and where there was once a quick wit there's now repeated mentions of girls spreading their legs. In fact, one of the things that struck me when I first heard "401K" was that its weakest point was the lyrics and their continued gimmick of "I'll be your 401k, cash me out." Erak simply doesn't have the same magnetic personality he did 10 years ago, and it really bogs down songs that would otherwise probably be good, like "A Single Word."
Lyrics aren't the only victim here, either, the melodies have lost just as much luster. Again, "Inside Out" is a strong point, with a floating sing-along melody in the verse that carries the song, but outside of that it's hard to catch a hook. Many of the songs are simply shouted almost monotonously over over the swaying guitar lines. Sometimes this works, such as when Tim Ward boisterously shouts the chorus of "Savior," but many times songs simply don't stick out because of it.
The vocals of every song are just weak, the lyrics lack any punch or charm, and it is without a doubt the biggest failing of the album. People are open to debate about the sound of the production or the band's ability to craft song structures the way they once could, but one point of universal agreement should be that Thomas simply can't hook us the way he used to.
Overall Impression — 5
People are free to like what they like, just as bands are free to make the music they like. However, The Fall of Troy's decision to go in without a label or producer was, perhaps, the wrong move to make for a band that needed to shake off 7 years of rust. The songs themselves aren't terrible, but they could all be something much, MUCH better. The whole album is essentially made up of very polished demos, demos which should have been shown to someone whose job depended on their quality, and that someone's response should have been "there needs to be more."
I fully believe that The Fall of Troy can still make a good album, one that's bristling with energy, reeking of good riffs and catchy melodies, and admittedly probably a little self indulgent. Unfortunately, "OK" isn't that album. Even more unfortunate is that I have to make the terribly easy joke that the album amounts to its name, it's not good, it's not awful, it's just ok.