Sound — 9
"Dead Years" is the third full-length album from Lancaster, PA based This Or The Apocalypse (TOTA). They share that territory with a couple of other heavy hitters in August Burns Red and Texas In July. All three bands are similar with amazing technicality, yet strikingly different. TOTA has stood out from all bands in the genre with a more groove based style. In a nutshell, their first release "Monuments" was very raw, hardcore, and unique. Their second release "Haunt What's Left" was a fast paced, groovy, melodic masterpiece. "Dead Years" is like a combination of the first two albums with a mix of some new elements. The guitars wail throughout the whole album, the bass is groovy, and the drums are pounding. The big thing that stands out is the lead guitar. Many times it is typical melodic riffing that is normal for TOTA, but on much of the album there are these unbelievable wails and bends that add so much more character to the album. Headbanging is almost automatic and natural while listening to the album. The pace seems a tad slower than their previous releases, but not without added depth to the album. The production is their best to date. There are the tempo changes in "Powerhawk", the tremolo picking and screaming guitar in the prechorus and chorus of "Americans", and the slick indie-style bridge in "You Own No One But You" to name a few unique things about the album.
Lyrics — 10
Vocally, this is by far TOTA's best work to date. Vocalist, Rick Armellino shows a lot more range here than before. He has gone from an all throaty scream to having a range from guttural scream to clean singing. The throaty scream is still most prevalent but the occasional guttural scream brings out a new element of emotion in their work. Clean vocals range from a sort or talk/sing/scream style to a full on clean vocal as seen in track "In Wolves". There were also some notable guest vocals on tracks "You Own No One But You" and "Gaunt And Fierce". Kevin Lankford takes over on some post-breakdown bridge clean vocals on "You Own No One But You". Lankford completely changes the mood of the song to a cool, indie-rock sort of feel that actually blends in amazingly well. "Gaunt And Fierce" contains some clean vocals from Sol Amstutz, who was also the artwork artist for the album. The layered vocals in this track really stand out. In the song's breakdown they utilize Amstutz as a clean vocalist while Armellino is belting out some guttural screams. Vocally, this album is quite intriguing. The lyrics are super powerful. I believe that much of the album is supposed to be political. In general, I think it covers a lot of interesting, internal social concepts. Nonetheless, an album with lyrics that are up for interpretation are always a strong point for me. There are also some amazing one-liners that can be captured from the lyrics in almost every song. Some notable lyrics are "The best thing about cowards is no matter what they're strength is when everything goes wrong they all will turn upon themselves", "stop trying to explain yourself, because life's too short to be the dust on the top shelf", "you'll never get back to shore if you don't know who your are", "no one stays without a reason, no one leaves without a trace".
Overall Impression — 9
I briefly mentioned the artwork earlier done by Sol Amstutz. I think it perfectly pairs with the album name, song style, and lyrics on the album. The brilliant artwork almost makes it feel like a concept album. The artwork shows a dark, apocalyptic type scene where vultures with human skulls as heads are wreaking havoc while people scream and buildings burn. Again, I believe this is a largely political gesture, but is also open for interpretation. Overall, I like everything that TOTA has done on this album. They've been able to maintain their essence while evolving and sounding different. Musically and technically, they are just as good if not better. This feels more like a complete album than their previous releases. The stand out songs for me are "In Wolves", "Hate The Ones You Love", "Americans", "You Own No One But You", and "Gaunt And Fierce".