Artist: With a Voice
Album: The Witness in The Valley
Label: Red Cord Records
Release Date: 02/12/13 (though Amazon says 2/19)
Reviewer: Lee Brown
- The Witness
- For Good Measure
- Phantom Pain
- The Hero I Had
- Intra Muros
- The Valley
Playing around with a very (Aaron Gillespie) Underoath-esque sound, With a Voice is ready to unleash their specific flavor of metalcore on the world. Formed in 2010 while the members were still in High School, WAV (ironically also the initials for a popular type of audio-file) released their Phoenix EP (produced by Fades Away vocalist Dave Erickson) prior to being signed by Red Cord/Bridge Way in 2012. Considering, then, their relatively short amount of time as a band, their overall ages, and that this is their first full-length release, WAV brings a polished sound and cohesive message that is almost too good to be true.
The Witness in the Valley is an all around solid album. It is solid not only in musical execution, but also in the overall “packaging” of the experience. Everything on the album seems to work together in the right way to bring the listener through the story it has to tell. Even the artwork, which is both excellent and engaging, draws you in with craggy and desolate buttes below and a disjointed use of negative space to form a peak above. The songs themselves also work to bring a flow and story as the album begins with “The Witness,” rises to “Vista,” and somberly concludes with “The Valley.” In this, the album feels like an experience as much as anything.
In all, The Witness in the Valley tells a tale of being broken people in a broken world. Rather than focus on the negative, however, the valley becomes a metaphor for the opportunity we have to connect with that broken world and, by entering into and admitting brokenness ourselves, offering the hope of a not-so-far off mountain top and an even grander sky beyond. The album is also lyrically impressive. Songs are cohesive, spiritually alive, and yet also aren’t afraid to candidly tackle those moments we find ourselves in the valleys of life. At certain points the messages are very direct and up-front and at others there is a veiled message that draws you in further. In both cases, the band has, again, proven very polished for a debut album.
“The Witness” is a rousing instrumental track that serves as a great way to open the story that is to unfold. Musically, With a Voice is offering solid metalcore that blends higher registers on both the singing and the screaming (again, think Aaron’s UnderOath). “Sincerity” starts off with some traditional screams and moves into some great clean vocals. As the title of the song suggests, the message of this song is sincerely apologizing for actions not taken to save someone’s life. The lyrics, “I tied a rope around your neck, like a noose made of apathy” are a great start in showcasing the intelligent writing throughout.
“For Good Measure” addresses the idea of whether our sins are inborn or whether they are shaped by the culture around us. The dichotomy in this song is the way the world sees us smashed against the way God sees us. “Am I a parasite for needing you… God can you hear my pleas… I want to see what You see in me… I want to live the life that you have set free,” set the backdrop for the aggressively searching vocals on this track.
“Phantom Pain” explores the pain of a loved one dying from cancer and wrestling with God in the midst of it all. It is a brutally honest song set to brutally executed vocals. On “Phantom Pain” the screaming vocals dominate the track with the sting of pain and loss, yet the cleans resound with hope. The dichotomy in the two is very apt and well executed. “Maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow and all will be ok, as I dream of a place where you still remain.”
The perfect midpoint of the album is found (not mathematically, but thematically) with “Vista.” “Vista” is an instrumental track with a veiled voice (sermon) speaking mutedly into the mix. It is an excellent piece of musicianship, but I have to make an admission. Every time I’ve listened to this song (several), I keep hearing Becoming the Archetype’s “Breathing Light.” The two songs are so similar in their basic elements, tempo, and even tones that I just keep waiting for “The final chapter has already been written…” to intrude at some point.
Unlike the previous tracks, “The Hero I Had” breaks the trend of starting with lows and working in the cleans for the chorus. In this track the cleans (strained towards being a little more aggressive) take center stage and the screams are reserved for the pre-chorus/chorus area of the track. Overall, “The Hero I Had” is one of the most solid tracks on the album and, due to the switch in vocals, is also heavier by default. In terms of message, the track speaks to the disillusionment that happens when a mentor/leader/hero falls and the reassurance that we still believe in them through the failure.
Following the pattern “The Hero I had” sets, “Fracture” begins again with the cleans. In terms of overall flow on this album, this combination/pattern helps to begin that flow of “Vista” being the pinnacle point/hinge where the album turns. “Fracture” is well paced and nicely heavy. The lyrics, “With all of the damage that I’ve done, comes all of the lessons I have learned. I’m sick of the man that I have been. There’s so much more to become,” point continually back to that “Witness in the Valley” theme that pervades purposefully throughout the album.
As with the observation that “Vista” shares more than a little commonality with “Breathing Light,” the first few strains of “Intra Muros” sound like they are ripped directly from a TFK album. For just a moment singer Dylan Raftevold (awesome last name) does a great job of sounding like Trevor McNevan! This, however, is only temporary as the track moves cleanly and efficiently back into With A Voice territory seconds later and the experimentation actually adds another element to the album in a positive way. “Intra Muros” would make a great live song and would be a great candidate for a music video. The message behind the track is that there are more forces at play than we realize and that the disease (sin?) sometimes takes control. Theologically, I would love to dig into whether the idea that “my child it’s not your fault” is totally accurate, but the heart behind the message seems sound with all things considered.
Ironically, the track that follows, “Skysplit,” is the most theologically terse track on the album. The opening line, “We can all talk about rapture, but who truly understands it,” and subsequent “never take the mark of the beast” say it all. Obviously, the issue of the end times can and has been a divisive topic in many churches as interpretations of Revelation vary (I highly recommend Jason Boyett’s hilarious and yet completely on-point Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse to anyone wanting to know more on that topic), but WAV says that “the time to decide what is true is now.” The chorus “I walked a thousand miles in your shoes, and yet you still deny the truth. The cross was built, the blood was spilt, but all the bodies remain the same… we can’t slip through the gears of this machine,” highlight the direction the band is wanting to push the listener… to action.
In all “Skysplit” is an encouragement to stand strong until the “earth shakes and the stars fall from the sky.” It is an encouragement to hold tight to the Christ who “walked a thousand miles in our shoes.” In terms of the broader album, where previous tracks spoke to the problems of this life, “Skysplit” works as a crescendo and encouragement to hold tight to Christ until the battle is won.
Just as the album opened up with “The Witness,” it closes with “The Valley.” “The Valley” is a somber and poignantly downbeat track that is primarily filled with likewise somber clean vocals that are reaching out to God. “If I were a drunk, a beggar, a con, a thief, would you still see right through me? If all we are is hands and feet, they why do we fight with both of these?” As the closing track, “The witness” does a great job of bringing all of the themes presented in the album, working as a bookend to “The Witness” and ending things on a downbeat arrangement, but encouraging message of God’s healing, love, and forgiveness. The way the screaming vocals come in at the end of the track mirror WAV’s simple and effectively dichotomous pattern throughout the rest of the album.
“I will live my life in a way I’ve never ever lived before. And I hope… it brings me to your arms.”
Overall: With a Voice is a very young band in every sense of the word. Yet, despite that fact, their sound is crisp and polished beyond their years. The Witness in the Valley has great production behind it, yet is not overproduced. It has powerful and intelligent lyrics that bring the listener through an experience that begins with “The Witness,” hinges/pivots at the aptly titled “Vista,” and takes things out strong with “The Valley.” Though there may be small technical improvements to be made as the band grows, I can’t imagine a better way to burst out of the gate running. With a Voice may just be the band to really watch out for going forward, as they’ve gotten things off to a powerful start.
RIYL: Underoath (Gillespie), Iron Sharpens Iron, Eyes of Eli, Close Your Eyes