For Fans Of
Did the world actually need a new Story Of The Year record? Well, much like how the world doesn’t need a review from me about said new Story Of The Year album, no, there was probably no need for it at all. Alas, this album exists and I’ve gone and written my review so let’s just fucking get on with it, yeah?
After more or less drifting off into the obscure background for a little while at the start and middle point of this decade, in 2016 the band resurfaced and ran a PledgeMusic campaign to fund a brand new record, which was completely funded in less than three days. Story Of The Year then enlisted high profile producer in the form of Aaron Sprinkle as well as mixers Tom Lord Alge & J Hall to help complete what would be their fifth LP. That record would eventually become known as 2017’s ‘Wolves‘, an at the most decent and very safe record for Story Of The Year to return with after being away for almost seven years.
This slightly indulgent, hour-long, 14-track offering is actually more akin to the progression and sound of the band’s last two albums, ‘The Black Swan‘ (2008) and ‘The Constant‘ (2010). What I’m getting at with that distinction is that ‘Wolves‘ has all of the polished sonic bells and whistles and the gargantuan choruses of the aforementioned pair, yet it lacks that driving soul, that burning heart as well as the brilliant songs of their first two records – the raw and classic debut that was ‘Page Avenue‘ (2003) and the darker, heavier and damned solid follow-up, ‘In The Wake Of Determination‘ (2005) . Look, I just don’t buy the emotion or tone of this new album – not at all. Actually, in a lot of ways, in 2017 (and now in early 2018) with ‘Wolves‘, Story Of The Year sound more like Breaking Benjamin or Starset rather than, well, Story Of The Year.
Also, as this is an album directly funded by longtime, die-hard fans of the band, that’s who this record is solely aimed at: the sycophantic fans who stuck by the group throughout the years and those who waited for a new release to finally unfold. Whether or not it was good, bad or even at all necessary. (Full disclosure: I didn’t put money towards their crowd-funding campaign as sometimes, the past should die). So, if you were never a fan of the Missouri outfit back in their prime, stopped listening after their third album, or if you never really got the appeal of their first records, then ‘Wolves‘ will most likely not sway your mind and will probably send you running in the opposite direction. Well, probably. Who knows, you personally might even like this fucking thing!
Along with ‘Wolves‘ just not having songs that match the sheer quality of their prior output, this album’s production and mix is slicker than the blackest oil and much of this record’s saccharine instrumentals are so goddamn clean that you could see your bloody reflection in them. So much so that it’s actually squeezed some of the life out of Story Of The Year’s once energised, impassioned sound. That being said, not all hope is lost.
The swirling metal guitar solos and hard rock riffs from the usual suspect – high-octane guitarist Ryan Phillips – are still present from the good old days (see: the solo in ‘How Can We Go On‘, the heavy chugs in ‘Goodnight, My Love‘, and the guitar work in ‘The Eternal Battle For Mike Cronin’s Soul (To Be Alive Again)‘). Likewise, the band’s heavier moments that prove their bite has still got some power behind it shines through in certain moments, like at the end of ‘A Part Of Me‘ or in the final moments of ‘How Can We Go On‘. Time also hasn’t withered their knack for offering catchy hooks and writing massive sing-along sections, which is riddled all over the album’s two lead singles, ‘Miracle‘ and the ear-worming ‘Bang Bang‘. Similarly, frontman Dan Marsala can still carry a tune just fine and his screams are still as powerful as ever. (Not that I can say the same for some of his lyrics here, though).
Admittedly, these new songs have actually recaptured some of the explosive song structures of the group’s youth. This record as a cohesive whole also flows together very nicely. From the movie-like intro title track that seemlessly swells into the massive rock song of ‘How Can We Go On‘; the wailing guitar interlude of ‘Youth‘ that transitions right into the bright, poppy and 80’s loving keys and synths of ‘I Swear, I’m Okay” to how the creepy, closing guitars of ‘Give Up My Heart‘ fade out into the heavy-breathing and screaming sirens of ‘The Eternal Battle For Mike Cronin’s Soul (To Be Alive Again)‘ AKA the heaviest song of the whole record. Plus, one song in particular here really stands out, and that’s album closer ‘Praying For Rain‘. It earns its seven-minute-plus length, it’s the most varied and engaging composition of the entire album, and it concludes the release on a strong note. It’s an ambitious piece for the band at this stage and one that works in both old and new Story Of The Year elements; bringing in both of their darker and lighter musical shades; showing where they once were many years ago and showcasing we’re there at now in this new era of their career.
The very real strength of ‘Praying For Rain‘ notwithstanding, sadly, there’s really nothing here that’s as impactful or as memorable as ‘Until The Day I Die‘ or ‘Anthem Of Our Dying Day‘ were and still are to this day. There are no songs here that are as beautiful or as touching as ‘Sleep‘ or ‘Terrified‘. There is just nothing here that’s as anthemic as ‘Take Me Back‘ or ‘Razorblades‘, and that’s just to name two killer songs. And there is nothing as pit-worthy and as heavy as hard-hitting oldies like ‘“Is This My Fate He Asked Them?”‘ or ‘Choose Your Fate‘. Despite their best efforts, this record will forever live in the overwhelming shadows of the band’s earlier work, even to the point where an almost self-ripping-off song like ‘My Home‘ feels so awkwardly forced in.
Alongside My Chemical Romance, AFI, The Used, Thursday, Taking Back Sunday, and From Autumn To Ashes, Story Of The Year was one of the first alternative rock/post-hardcore bands that I got into in my early teens. And good god man, I listened to this band’s music a lot. I have so much fucking romanticised and nostalgic love for this band, especially for their golden first two records. (Just in case my glaring rose-tinted glasses weren’t obvious enough in this review already). This bit of personal anecdotal history with the band brings me to my next point: despite the Story Of The Year genuinely trying hard with their comeback effort, ‘Wolves‘ just doesn’t stack up against the band’s early two fabled releases. Because it’s not the early 2000’s anymore. Because I myself am not a teenager anymore. Because the band aren’t these young, twenty-something-year-olds anymore. Because the landscape of this particular music scene has changed and shifted so much over the past decade and a half. Because things have changed for both of us. Because it’s just not the same. And it was never ever going to be.
As a very big fan of Story Of The Year, and as someone who is glad that they’re continuing on, the band’s first full-length record in almost seven years is a disappointment. Despite my deep love for their past works, ‘Wolves’, while not an awful album, just sadly leaves me wanting. And I’m not going to pretend otherwise, fan or not. There were a lot of great comeback records in 2017 – solid records from the likes of At The Drive In, Quicksand, and Glassjaw – but ‘Wolves’ is simply not a member of that prestigious crowd.
- How Can We Go On
- Bang Bang
- I Swear I’m Okay
- Can Anybody Hear Me
- A Part of Me
- Give Up My Heart
- The Eternal Battle for Mike Cronin’s Soul (To Be Alive Again)
- My Home
- Goodnight, My Love
- Like Ghosts
- Praying for Rain
‘Wolves’ is out now. Also, from the remake of IT to Stranger Things itself, to the Falling In Reverse’s ‘Superhero‘ film clip and Speak The Truth… Even If Your Voices Shakes’ video for ‘Drowning On The Sidewalk Or Dying On The Inside‘ to the front cover of ‘Wolves’, I’m tired of the Stand By Me-like media craze lately. It’s all getting too much, and like all good things in life, we as a society will all run it right into the fuckin’ ground until the next big thing comes along.