As Cities Burn – Scream Through the Walls
It’s summer, and Audiofeed 2019 is just under a month away. I’m sitting on my front porch, enjoying the weather and listening to some local music (Carole Walker and the Bittertones, to be precise). I’m also pondering the bevy of releases I have to write about, and one I absolutely cannot skip is As Cities Burn’s Scream Through the Walls.
To call them a mere post hardcore band is oversimplifying it. My perspective on As Cities Burn has changed so much over the years. I remember growing my hair out because a girl I liked told me she liked my long hair and pretending to be an emo scenester, while RadioU played “Bloodsucker Part 2” in the background (let’s be honest – I’ve always been light-years away from being an actual scene kid – thank goodness!). Come Now Sleep formed the soundtrack to my freshman year at Wheaton College and I would experience a lot of those songs live at the Chicago Metro, at a 2008 Emery show. Hell or High Water soundtracked the latter half of my sophomore year of college. Post-college, I would experience Cody and Aaron’s side-project Hawkboy live, and five years later get to know Aaron a bit as the tour manager for the The Classic Crime/Matt & Toby/Civilian tour package that would play Tuned Up’s Steadfast Festival at Veritas.
Quick anecdote: I asked Aaron for constructive criticism on the fest and he said almost verbatim, “if As Cities Burn were a band, they’d never play a church.” Well, the past two years we moved that fest out of the church and it flourished in a new way. With no sarcasm or snark, (as this might come across via text) thanks, As Cities Burn!
But more importantly, thank you for making new music. A lot can change in ten years, as I illustrated above. Scream Through the Walls is a fun listen that runs the gamut of the the range of ACB sounds. They know exactly what they’re doing, but they execute authentically.
“Live Convinced” gets my blood pumping. TJ Bonnette yells into the void in a desperate plea of an intro that ought to get mosh pits going. I’m thinking of the irony that comes with people moshing to someone yelling “Can you convinced you’re not invincible?” Yes, I know there’s a bigger philosophical (spiritual?) question here – but yes, kids. Mosh at your own risk. You’re not invincible. A shout-out is in order for the background guitar work that seems to mirror the flames referenced in the lyrics of the pre-chorus.
“2020 AD” was the lead single of the record, and it’s fun to hear an extension of the driving sound of Hell or High Water fleshed out a bit into a sound that’s a little more of an earworm. Lines like “Catch my eye (if you can)” and “Has it gotten out of hand yet (cut it off)” seem to reference Jesus’ scriptural exhortation to followers to weed out sin in their lives:
28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.Matthew 5:28-30 NIV
Like Scripture, the band is using hyperbole above. I still need to figure out what I think they mean, to be honest.
One of my personal favorite tracks of the album is “Bright White Light” which appropriately begins with a call of sorts to “full speed ahead!” This a simple song calling everyone toward the light and camaraderie. I have my own ides of what this might mean (again), but what do you think? Long time fans might find this song to be not “deep” enough, but there’s often beauty in simplicity. I think of Come Now Sleep’s “Clouds” – Is your God really God?
Musically, I wouldn’t call this an uplifting record but this is really enjoyable. It also serves as encouragement to the wanderer. Album closer “Die Contrary” is a direct plea to God for guidance and sustenance. The mere fact that humanity is driven to appeal to a higher power is evidence of how we’re wired, and encouragement that in the end the ultimate Good will prevail.
This album is and isn’t like every other ACB album at the same time. It doesn’t have the huge heavy climaxes that Son I Love You at Your Darkest has, but each song is adrenaline inducing and a punch to the gut in its own way. It has the existential musing that is trademark for every record. The musicianship is on point and never phoned in. At times it’s atmospheric, though you have to look a little harder for those elements than on Come Now Sleep.
My perspective on this record will likely shift a lot by the end of this year, and to be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way.