Album Review :
As Cities Burn - Hell or High Water

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Artist: As Cities Burn
Album: Hell or High Water
Label: Tooth & Nail Records
Release Date: April 21, 2009
Review by: Michael Mayer III

Tracklisting:

  1. ’84 Sheepdog
  2. Errand Rum
  3. Into the Sea
  4. Made Too Pretty
  5. Lady Blue
  6. Petty
  7. Daughter
  8. Pirate Blues
  9. Capo

Hell or High Water was probably the most hyped release of the first half of 2009 next to mewithoutYou’s new album. Both bands are hailed for their ability to experiment and push themselves lyrically and musically to new heights. The change from Son, I Loved You at Your Darkest to Come Now Sleep was so drastic it left a lot of people in a state of shock until they could grasp what they were hearing. Now that we have As Cities Burn’s third release, and possibly last, I can say this much: It’s not quite as powerful or of as high of quality as Come Now Sleep, which to me is a classic album near the top of my imaginary ‘all-time’ list.

The change from it’s predecessor isn’t the grand canyon as it was before but there is a difference. All of the atmospheric qualities and blues riffs that drifted into jams that were on Come Now Sleep are gone. The songs have a straightforward rock vibe with the occasional gang vocals and clapping sessions (even edited to sound glitchy in ‘Lady Blue’ for a cool effect) to progress the songs. It also needs to be said that Cody’s vocals have matured greatly. Sometimes you get so caught up in the music you don’t realize just how strong his voice is and how well he gets his emotions across to the listener.

The lyrics are also more cryptic than ever. I felt Come Now Sleep was more in your face but it seems that these on Hell or High Water require a bit more work to find a meaning and I bet if you asked ten different people you’d get ten different responses. And while there seems to be a nautical theme across a few of the songs you can’t say it’s a running concept for the whole album. Just like a few songs seem to speak of the impact of a person’s upbringing and our decisions (’84 Sheepdog’, ‘Errand Rum’, ‘Lady Blue’).

The album really picks up steam midway through and doesn’t let up. I particularly love the schizophrenic nature of ‘Lady Blue’, where it changes pace about three or four different times and always for the better. And there are some great guitar riffs, like in ‘Petty’, that carry the song and brings back memories of their sophomore release. ‘Capo’ is a solid but interesting choice for a closer too. I’ll admit it took some getting used to since it’s unlike anything else on the album. It sounds… happy… and I like it! With the ooh, ooh’s, the interesting keyboard texture and fun chorus it has a 70’s feel to it that I can’t get out of my head.

Overall: I don’t include the bonus track ‘Gates’ in with this album since it wasn’t officially released as such. That’s a shame because it would actually have been the perfect closer and probably the best track. As it is, Hell or High Water feels a bit short and unfinished with only 9 tracks and none reaching the epic quality of ‘Timothy’ or ‘Contact’ (‘Pirate Blues’ gets close). I just favor the more blues-y nature where you didn’t know what would come next in the song or the album. Still, there’s some gems here that will likely get stuck in your head and the album is a must own piece of art. You will be challenged and you will be better off for it.

Gems of this album are: ‘Lady Blue’, ‘Petty’, ‘Daughter’, ‘Pirate Blues’

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