Album Review :
Project 86 - Knives to the Future

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Artist: Project 86
Album: Knives to the Future
Label: Team Black Recordings (IndieGoGo Fan-Funded)
Release Date: 11.11.14
Reviewer: Lee Brown

Track Listing: 

  1. Intro
  2. Spirit of Shiloh
  3. Acolyte March
  4. Knives to the Future
  5. Son of Flame
  6. Captive Bolt Pistol
  7. Ambigram
  8. Genosha
  9. Pale Rider
  10. Valley of Cannons
  11. White Capstone
  12. Oculus
  13. Nocturnal Gaze (Acoustic EP) (IndieGoGo Bonus Track)
  14. Firefly Without a Night (Acoustic EP) (IndieGoGo Bonus Track)
  15. Transposeur (Acoustic EP) (IndieGoGo Bonus Track)
  16. In Trenches (Acoustic EP) (IndieGoGo Bonus Track)

Project 86 has always had a quality about them that is just short of indescribable. As I mentioned in my review of their 2012 masterpiece, I firmly believe this stems from how they quickly found their core sound and then worked from the edges of that sound in, rather than the other way around. However, even their “sound” does not fully explain the depth of what draws such die-hard fans to P86’s flame. It is Andrew’s ability to weave words, symbology, spiritual themes, and raw energy together to perfectly complement the skillful and often beautifully aggressive instrumentation that seems to come closest to doing the job. Each P86 album is as much literary as it is musical, and the seamless blending of the two makes for an experience that is greater than the sum of the parts.

Knives to the Future follows one of the band’s career best albums. In fact, I believe firmly that Wait for the Siren was the undisputed best album of 2012. It is always difficult to follow such highly-praised albums. Most bands would see such success and attempt to rehash what made that album so popular. Luckily, Project 86 has never been “most” bands.

Each P86 release has had its own identity. Much as two parents will produce genetically similar and yet strikingly different children; it would be impossible to call Knives to the Future “just the same album, again.” Knives blazes its own trail, diverging from Wait For the Siren in dramatic ways while still holding to the core of what makes a fundamentally distinct P86 album. This is just one of the reasons this new album will stand the test of time, rather than cower in its predecessor’s shadow. Had Andrew and Co. done what “the industry” always seeks to do and given us “one more like that,” Knives would never have measured up. Instead, Knives hits similar, yet entirely different beats that take the listener into another superb experience.

As Andrew first revealed to us back in March of this year, Knives to the Future is designed to weave a specific story with an unexpected ending, yet each song has a story of its own to tell. Fans of the band will note a similar formula used in past albums, such as Truthless Heroes and Rival Factions, to great success. The album weaves an epic that is a literary journey, a spiritual parallel, and a guttural assessment of the human state all at once. It is a tale of battling through the shadowlands to find what it has all been about to begin with.

Being a band that has always focused on the sum total experience (just buy a CD copy of Rival Factions, for a great example), this story is encapsulated in the (frankly) amazing artwork, which poignantly draws the listener in through the visual medium to the struggle experienced across the album. The canvas pictured, with a character facing a great uphill battle to a serene mountain, while standing in shadowlands with buzzards circling and shotgun in hand, go great lengths towards immersing the listener in what is to come.

Album Breakdown: 

Andrew revealed to us (and will mention again during Project 86 Week) that he spent a lot of time listening to classical music and film scores while writing and recording this album. “Intro” is the listener’s first taste of this. Although very brief, the track starts the album off with a soundscape that seems to harken back to these influences while also setting the tone for the tale to come.

“Spirit of Shiloh” bursts forth with Andrew’s signature style, blending the above mentioned influences into a track that feels like it is simply P86 to the core. In fact, it feels very much like this track could fit in the Songs to Burn Your Bridges By or …and the rest will follow era, yet it is also transcends them with its own life’s blood and fingerprint. The firebrand chant of “one last chance to leave it all on the line” starts the lyrical tale off with a charging passion that plays out across the rest of the album. The final lyric “I beg you to let me see what awaits me,” then, becomes to jumping off point for the album’s winding epic.

“Acolyte March” uses the visual metaphor of the Biblical city of Jericho to show the confidence of one who knows their enemy is already slain. In this, “Acolyte March” follows “Fall, Goliath, Fall” and “Above the Dessert Sea” from the previous album in dynamically pulling from Biblical imagery to underscore the tale at hand. The line “your city belongs to me. You will see,” brings an early confidence to the story element of the song that stands as a precursor to the coming storm. Sonically, “Acolyte March” works as a heavier track with a melodic chorus fans will really get behind. This will certainly be a great track to hear live.

The title track follows suit with a bit of a Rival Factions meets Songs To Burn Your Bridges By sound. Thematically, the track picks up the early confidence towards the current/coming battle with lines like “no retreat, there’s nothing behind me. We have no choice, we’ll never surrender…” and adds a more blatant spiritual element with lines like, “taste of the blood, the blood of communion.” In this, the track blends a nod to the faith with a confident assault on the future, as the track title suggests. The spiritual battle element of the song should feel comfortable to fans of the Picket Fence Cartel tracks like “The Butcher.”

“Son of Flame” changes the pace nicely with a more melodic track that really shines. Building on the spiritual theme of communion present in the previous track, this one alludes to Christ with lines like “you broke the veil like it was nothing.” This track captures the early confidence of previous ones and adds the challenge to be a light in the darkness in a dynamic way. The line “Son of Flame you light the darkest day,” repeated throughout is both artistically catchy and thematically deep. All in all, “Son of Flame” is a standout track that reminds me of some of the more melodic tracks from Truthless Heroes, again with its own sibling traits.

“Captive Bolt Pistol” picks the pace back up and returns to a heavier style that also reminds me subtly of the heavier moments off Truthless…, but replaces the ire of that album with hope-filled battle against the darkness. In terms of the album story, this track feels like the speech William Wallace gives the troops prior to battle. In asking, “do you believe in destiny?” The general is rallying the troops for action. That said, every time I play this track I cannot also help but notice the similar elements to the game Destiny. From mention of “the nexus,” “house of devilry,” to the very charge “I still believe in destiny,” I can’t help but wait for someone to go viral laying this track over scenes from that game as a nod to the “is the game great, good, or terrible” nature it has evoked since its release. So, get on that internet. Let’s make it happen.

“Ambigram” finds its name for the art of making words that appear to stay the same even when looked at from different angles (usually being flipped), such as this. Though every title on this album (all P86 albums) is telling, this one especially seems to seek to direct the listener’s attention to something. Musically, “Ambigram” is once again more melodic, yet still perfectly heavy. Thematically, the track feels like a spiritual successor (conclusion?) to tracks like “S.M.C.” and “The Sanctuary Hum,” as it proclaims, “meet me in my sanctuary, where no enemy will find the key…,” though again from a different standpoint.

“Genosha” begins with a very “film-score-esque” prologue that breaks into even heavier brutality and a change in the story from the hopeful spirit of imminent success to that of bitter betrayal. “Pale Rider” reinforces this story element by beginning with the line “I pulled the knife out of my spine.” Fans will note the imagery of this being a nod to their Songs To Burn Your Bridges By cover art. At this point, the story shows the heat of ravaging battle, yet still shows a faith-filled confidence that grows even through the pains. Sonically, “Pale Rider” has some brutal moments with a harder, yet still melodic, chorus. It is certain to be a fan favorite.

“Valley of Cannons” takes the pain of betrayal, the pale outlook of battle, and serves to spit in the face of opposition. “Into the moon-light we proclaim, our death is not in vain.” Musically, the track is ever skillful, as with other tracks, blending engaging guitar and drum work while laying the groundwork for Andrew’s biting screams and hard-edged melodies.

“White Capstone,” my personal favorite track on the album proper, takes this seeming failure in battle and paints it against an ever growing hope in deliverance through, seemingly, Christ Himself. The beautifully haunting chorus proclaims, “lost in Your light, the only way I’ll make it through is, lost in Your light. I close my eyes and disappear.” Combined with the overall imagery of the album, which could refer to the Spiritual battle we all face in these Shadowlands, this track becomes an even more haunting submission to Christ; placing our eternal hope firmly in His deliverance. “Remind me of Your promises. Remind me of Your faithfulness. Remind me this was never about me.” Sonically, this track is atmospheric and haunting, featuring some amazingly layered instrumentation which combines with the fantastic lyrics and bold thematic thrust to make an all around stand-out track. Simply put, best song on the album in my opinion.

The album proper concludes with “Oculus,” which pictures the “final step to revelation’s end.” Lyrically, this is the most pregnant track when it comes to the overarching story of the album. As mentioned about the artwork playing a role, lines like, “upon the snowy mountain, it all comes down to this,” nod to the cover dynamically, while those like, “I finally find the meaning of every single step,” paint an even more haunting picture of our own journey’s end. “The passage I have travelled was not of the physical… to die for something greater is all that we could live for” point to the spiritual envelopment this album is immersed in, and gives greater context to the overall battle pictured.

Musically, “Oculus” is almost as haunting “White Capstone,” perhaps even more so. Thematically, “Oculus” captures and concludes the story of the album, making it the perfect closing track. In terms of the surprise ending promised, I think most of us will find great surprise to see, in the end, that we were not the hero of our own story. The discovery that history… even our own history… is but a footnote to the greater story catches us off guard. In this, “Oculus” perfectly and beautifully echoes the closing lines of Lewis’ Narnian tales, only in artistically different words.

“Forever I’m a memory, because You are all there is.”

Breakdown of Acoustic EP:

*Update* Project 86 has clarified that although some sites, such as Amazon, are showing the Acoustic tracks as a part of this album, that it is officially a separate EP, as was originally stated in their campaign. **

Those who backed the band through IndieGoGo will also receive four bonus songs as a part of an Acoustic EP. Each is an acoustic track, though if you’re expecting nothing more than an acoustic guitar and Andrew’s voice, you’re sadly mistaken. These acoustics are more akin to what Phinehas did with The Bridge Between EP in nature, and feature broad instrumentation. Even more notably, these are NOT acoustic covers of album songs, but are each new and unique.

“Nocturnal Gaze” seems to follow the thematic lead of songs like “Cavity King” and “Cold and Calculated.” As with the album proper heavy Biblical imagery is pulled from with nods to “forty days and forty nights.” This is a heavy thematic song with some cold edges to it.

“Firefly Without a Night” brings an engaging western-styled sound and deep lyrical waters. Ironically, this track could seemingly follow “Oculus” as an epilogue, as it fits in certain ways. As with the rest of the EP (save for “Nocturnal Gaze”) the themes and imagery do fit well with Knives… which makes complete sense based on them being written in similar timeframes.

“Transposeur,” to me, shows this version of P86’s true musical ability. Each tone used is so precise and well executed. Vocally, Andrew provides his best performance of the acoustic tracks. “Transposeur” itself is one of the band’s best tracks of late. The imagery of spiritual battle against demonic forces is strong and it just has such an eloquence to it throughout.

If these tracks were attached to the album proper, “In Trenches” would provide a great epilogue. The thematic elements of the album are once again encapsulated and brought to a logical conclusion, yet the song also brings a dreamy “Alice in Wonderland” feel to it. Once again, the parallel to the conclusion of Narnia seems apt, as well.  Musically, “In Trenches” is haunting in the same way that “White Capstone” and “Oculus” are.

“Touch the realm of peace, the mystery. Close your eyes and meet me inside this dream.”

Musicianship: As can be expected from a band that has thrived for nearer to two decades, Knives has strong musical prowess. The album is not as diverse as Wait for the Siren, and there are not as many songs that “stand out” in comparison. That said, Knives builds so powerfully on itself and is perhaps even more precise in nature than their previous album.

Lyrical/Spiritual Content: Alongside Christian from Blindside, Andrew Schwab sits as the best lyricist in modern faith-based heavy music. Knives tells a tale that is worthy to sit alongside the poets, and yet is formatted for the pleasure of your auditory canals. But, like the best of authors, the true depths of this album are yet to be mined and new nuances are found with each listen.

Lasting Value: As mentioned above, Knives to the Future both sets itself apart from past P86 work, while also sharing a depth of familial bonds. Project is, as I said in my last review of their work, the most criminally underrated band in all of rock music. Knives’ lasting value, however, comes not just from the depth of its musical acumen, but the depth of the lyrical journey the listener will find. The tie to eternal themes and concepts also ensure that this will not be just a passing story, but one that relates to listeners of any age or stage.

Overall:  Project 86 follow one of the best albums of their career with another musical masterpiece. Knives to the Future is poetry that is formatted for the pleasure of your auditory canals. The story at the heart of the album is epic and eternal, and yet personable, gritty, and relatable. It tells a surprising tale of battle, defeat, and victory, yet anchors itself in the mystery of eternity. Musically, Knives sees another exemplary performance. Though it is not as dynamically diverse as Wait For the Siren was, it is perhaps more intimate and intricate, and it the epitome of precision throughout.

Fans of the band should not hesitate to make an immediate purchase of this album. Those who have not yet discovered the power that is Project 86 will find just one more reason we recently named Project 86 one of “Ten faith-based bands every heavy music fan MUST listen to.”