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At the start of the last decade, Saviour were an emotionally-heavy, breakdown-loving mosh outfit from Perth with the occasional hint of atmosphere and melody to their music. Now, at the start of this new decade, Saviour are a *checks notes* breakdown-loving mosh outfit from Perth that now, much more openly and frequently, love putting moody, atmospheric passages and lethargic, melodic choruses into their songs.
On LP #4, ‘A Lunar Rose,’ their first new album in three years, Saviour sound like Saviour. I literally do not know how to say it any more directly or bluntly than that. If you like all of Saviour’s other releases, you’ll probably really enjoy this new record (unless you’re me, as much as I do like their older material,) and if you don’t like Saviour, well, you see what I’m getting at.
The band’s long-standing mixture between the heavy and light, subtle and not-so-subtle use of electronics and synth pads, the soft keys that dot their songs, switcheroos between smooth legato guitar leads, clean arpeggiated melodies, and aggressive palm-muted chugs all remain steadfast. So too does the competent dual-vocal dynamic between screamer Bryant Best and keys-player/singer Shontay Snow – perhaps the band’s biggest identifying musical trait – which is pretty much all on display with the record’s short opening titular track. Thus making for the familiar Saviour that we’ve heard since ‘First Light To My Death Bed‘ came out seven years ago. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
If there’s anything at all noticeably different about Saviour in 2020 its that there is a larger metalcore, djent edge to their sound now. This is most apparent in the guitar work, tunings and phrasings during the heavier moments of cuts like ‘Enemies ‘ ‘The City,’ and ‘Calendars,’ all giving off some hefty post-2014 Architects vibes. Not that that’s a bad thing, but it isn’t the biggest or greatest change that a band of their ilk can do. And if you were hoping for songs that were on par with the likes of ‘Vomit,’ ‘Morning,’ ‘Stories,’ and ‘Jaded,’ or even ‘Empty Skies,’ don’t get your hopes up.
The Joker-like video for ‘Enemies‘ may be a lame watch, but the actual song itself is one of the album’s finer moments. As is ‘Never Sleep,’ with both songs seeing Saviour reminding us all why they’re take on melodic hardcore and metalcore garnered so much attention and applause in Australia earlier in the last decade; balancing out the heavy and melodic personas of their band very well, with neither side underwhelming or overwhelming the other half.
Though, the tricky thing with this band these days is that with such little progression to their sound over the years, songs on this new LP fluctuate between rather memorable and quite ‘meh.’ But at least that better pair fall firmly within the former demographic. However, ‘Calendars,’ ‘Pixelated,’ and ‘The City‘ drop down into the latter ditch; just forgettable cuts when placed in a row next to stronger iterations of what Saviour has already been doing for years
The melodic hardcore power chords of ‘Violet‘ soon give way to haunting piano-laden passages, jumping back and forth between busy bruising metalcore parts and the former. Then the melodic hardcore double-time of ‘Passengers‘ injects some life into the record’s veins, threatening me with a good time. The best part of ‘Souvenir‘ comes at its end, with the vocal layering of Bryant and Shontay taking on two different roles, eventually meeting up and harmonizing, all playing out over electro beats and ethereal keys. Now, that’s something that this band loves to do with their vocal arrangements, but there’s only so many times you can have Shontay sing the lead with Bryant screaming in the background, repeating what she’s said, or vice versa before it loses all of its gripping effect.
Bryant has such an evocative, mid-range scream that just works for their sound, keeping his finger on the trigger for his burlier, punchy low growls for when their songs stray into that ignorant-sounding, china-smashing breakdown territory. Honestly, he’s one of the more underrated vocalists in Australian heavy music. As always, Shontay has a lovely voice, and her vocals have gelled with the rest of Saviour to be that of a perfect fit. That was true back in the days of ‘Once We Were Lions‘ when she was just a guest vocalist, to later material when she became a full-time member. Her cold, moon-lit minor vocal refrains are always a high-point of their songs, and the contrast between her soft timbre and aggro instrumentals and Bryant’s screams has always been the band’s ace up their sleeve. Which is still the case; very few bands in metalcore, especially in Australia, sound exactly like Saviour do. It’s just that now, on the third time around, following 2017’s ‘Let Me Leave,’ the musical impact of this approach is significantly mitigated.
One time when streaming my pre-release copy of ‘A Lunar Rose,’ I heard my dogs barking outside. I didn’t even stop the stream, heading out to bring my three babies in and make sure they were okay. After I gave them some food and a few good pats, I came back to my computer, only to find that I was now in the middle of a different song that could’ve sounded like literally any of the other nine songs found on this new Saviour record. All that really changes are the titles and song lengths; the riffs, structures, tempos, and keys all remaining mostly unchanged throughout.
Saviour have clearly wished to make a record that’s “them,” something that’s consistent with what people know and expect of them, amplifying each aspect of their sound to be it’s biggest and loudest. While there’s definitely something to be said about the merit of taking that route, ‘A Lunar Rose’ was dull more than it was ever engaging. Figuratively and literally, outside of a few decent songs, ‘A Lunar Rose’ is a pretty sleepy record. Listening to it lulls me into a tired mindset, with my eye-lids feeling heavier than the syncopated, chugging drop-tuned metalcore sections that litter this LP. Instead of a metaphorical, lush garden growing out of my head a la its artwork when journeying through ‘A Lunar Rose,’ all this album does to my brain is quieting down its synapses.
‘A Lunar Rose’ is out Friday, February 28th.