Lost in the Sound of Separation

One of my greatest passions in life (aside from God and my family) is music. I love music. So this week, I thought I’d take some time and talk about some of my most-loved bands. I’m going to pick my favorite albums by some of my favorite bands and talk about what it is I like about that band and that particular album.

First up is Lost in the Sound of Separation by Underoath, which I think is appropriate considering I stole that name for the title of this blog post. Underoath is a Christian band that started off playing fairly standard metalcore, but have since morphed into something much more indefinable. (Metalcore is the name given to a sub-genre of music that combines the blistering heaviness of metal with the crunch and chug of hardcore. If you’re intrigued, some examples of good metalcore bands are Converge, Killswitch Engage, Earth Crisis, and so on.) Separation is Underoath’s most recent album, released in 2008. Lyrically, the album is inspired by frontman Spencer Chamberlain’s battle with drug addiction. Musically, Separation is an intense and powerful evocation of a sinner’s struggle to return to God’s grace. It’s not a pleasant album. It’s not an album you listen to if you want to cheerfully hum along and tap your foot. It’s more of an album for those times when you feel surrounded by darkness and it seems like God is far away.

The next album I’d like to highlight is Everyone Is Out to Get Us by Far-Less. This band was known for mixing a wide variety of disparate influences into their sound, which resulted, at least on this particular album, in a potent cocktail of grooving melodic alternative rock, blistering metal breakdowns, raging hardcore stomp, and enough time signature switches and complex rhythms to make a jazz musician nod in approval. Everyone is the rare album where you never know quite what to expect from the next song, yet it all ties together and makes sense within the context of the album. It’s truly one of the great albums of the 00’s. Unfortunately, Far-Less dropped the ball on their tepid follow-up, A Toast to Bad Taste, and then they broke up. But at least they left one great album behind.

Album number three is Quintessence by Borknagar. Borknagar is a Norwegian black metal band that’s been around since at least the mid-90s. They started off as sort of a “super group” of notable members of the Norwegian black metal scene, but members have come and gone over the years, and now they’re more or less just a regular band. Their best album is probably 2001’s Empiricism, but my favorite will always be the previous album. Quintessence is a truly epic affair. Soaring melodies, crushing guitar tones, inhumanly fast drumming, majestic keyboards… if you know anything about Norwegian black metal, you realize I just described three-fourths of the albums that have come out of that scene. But there’s something special about Quintessence – some indefinable quality that it has that no other black metal album does.

The fourth album I want to mention is actually two albums: Red For Fire: An Icelandic Odyssey, Vol. 1 and Black For Death: An Icelandic Odyssey, Vol. 2 by Solefald. Although these are packaged and sold as two separate albums, they really are two parts of a complete work. Solefald, like Borknagar, is a Norwegian black metal band. In fact, one of the two guys who makes up Solefald is also the keyboard player for Borknagar. But aside from that, the two bands really don’t have much in common. Solefald is much more experimental, and they tend to cast their net much wider in terms of incorporating a wide variety of musical genres into their sound. Icelandic Odyssey is actually more traditional than anything else they’ve done. It’s basically a fusion of black metal and Scandinavian folk music, and the results are nothing short of divine. It is an epic in every sense of the word.

The next album is Riot! by Paramore. Riot! is a considerably poppier album than any of the other albums I’ve described so far, but Paramore’s biggest hook for me is that their singer is female. I have a soft spot in my heart for rock bands with female singers, and there just aren’t nearly enough good ones out there! But Paramore is one of them. Hayley Williams is a tiny little girl with a big, beautiful voice, and the rest of the band punches out pop punk songs with plenty of hooks and lots of crunch. I’m generally not a huge fan of pop rock, but that’s mostly because there are too many bands playing that sort of music, and they all sort of sound like each other. Paramore is one of my favorite bands because they don’t sound like everybody else. They actually do pop rock well. That’s just too rare nowadays.

The final album I want to talk about is my all-time favorite album by my all-time favorite band. The album is If_Then_Else by The Gathering. The Gathering are a band from the Netherlands whose sound and membership has varied considerably over the last 20 years. They began as a doom metal band with a male singer, and are currently an alternative rock band with a female singer. If_Then_Else was released in 2000, when the band were at the height of their sonic adventurism. Their singer at the time was Anneke van Giersbergen, who is similar to Hayley Williams in that she’s a fairly diminutive woman with a big, powerful voice. She was The Gathering’s frontwoman for most of their career, but unfortunately she left in 2007 to pursue a solo career. In any case, If_Then_Else was the sixth album released by The Gathering, and the fourth album they recorded with Anneke. It is a stunning fusion of a myriad of musical styles, heavy yet melodic, direct yet pensive, crushing yet gentle. It is a true masterpiece in every sense of the word.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this brief tour of my musical tastes. I encourage you to check out any or all of the albums and bands that I mentioned. Let me know if you do and if you like what you hear!

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