Once upon a time in the early 2000s, Christian bands were at the cutting edge of metalcore, with Solid State artists leading the pack. And at the front of this pack, along with Underoath, Still Remains, and As I Lay Dying was Haste the Day. They had the riffs, the breakdowns, and the signature raspy scream of vocalist Jimmy Ryan. (I am of course now aware that this type of high-pitched demon-growl had originated with Dan Weydandt of Zao, but as a young college student who primarily listened to screamo and metalcore with midrange growling, this was something completely different.)
One of my all-time favorite concert memories was seeing Haste the Day play “American Love” at Rocketown in Nashville, and at the clean vocal bridge (it’s very pretty, look it up if you’re unfamiliar), a couple began vigorously making out right in front of me. They had very clearly been waiting for this moment all night and, if they are still together, probably are remembering this as one of the most magical times in their early relationship. (I digress.)
Ryan left Haste the Day after their second album and was replaced by Stephen Keech, who went on to record 3 ½ more albums with the band, and wasn’t heard from again for 3 years, until he reemerged with the mysterious new project Trenches and their album The Tide Will Swallow Us Whole. Now sharing joint vocal duty with Joel Lauver, who provides a different tenor of screaming along with some clean/yelling vocal parts, the band was wholly different from anything that we had seen from Haste the Day. This was not your standard metalcore outfit; in fact, it wasn’t metalcore at all. Trenches fell somewhere in the post-metal/sludge universe with influences from and similarities to bands like Isis and even the Deftones. The album was incredible, but unfortunately the band seemed to drop off the map quickly, only adding to their mystique. What happened to Trenches, and would we ever hear from them again?
In the meantime, Ryan recorded a live Haste the Day album with Keech, Haste the Day Vs. Haste the Day, which playfully pitted the two singers and eras of the band against each other, and he rejoined the band along with Keech in 2015 to record the excellent and underrated Coward.
Lo and behold, in fourth quarter 2021 Trenches announced that they were going to release Reckoner, which dropped on January 1st of this year. Comprised of songs that had been written and recorded during the intermission since The Tide Will Swallow Us Whole, Reckoner came into the New Year like a bomb, setting off an explosion of heavy atmospheric music that should perk the ears of anyone interested in the metal genre.
At first glance, Reckoner is a lot leaner than its predecessor, with the whole album clocking in at just under 37 minutes. This doesn’t mean that quality or creativity are lost, but rather that the tracks are quicker to get to the meat. Additionally, Trenches newest sound is a lot more expansive, overall, than the ethereal TWSUW, which leaned heavily into post-metal as the band was just beginning to explore what they could do. On Reckoner, they explore a variety of styles, including metalcore and even death metal (the blast beats at the outset of “Ties that Bind” are unreal).
There’s ample space throughout for Lauver to explore his cleaner side (“Empires”), but it happens in a way that sounds cohesive along with the heavier tracks, as opposed to some other metal bands that either shoehorn in a clean bridge or just ditch the heaviness altogether. The dueling clean and screaming vocals between Lauver and Ryan throughout the album, and especially on “Lenticular Clouds,” put Trenches on another level in terms of metallic artistry. The band employs a number of interesting time signatures and beat changes throughout the record that make the album worthy of repeat listens. In short, you don’t feel as if you’re listening to the same song for 40 minutes.
A lot of space has been given in this review to Ryan, but make no mistake, the rest of the band are no slouches. The guitarists create some incredibly heavy and memorable riffs, the drum and bass keep the beats tight, and the band as a whole sound on top of their game, as if they’ve been doing this forever rather than just releasing their second album.
Reckoner is an easy frontrunner for heavy album of the year and deserves to stay in peoples’ minds next November when it’s time to make year-end lists. Hopefully, when it becomes more tenable to play live music again, Trenches will be able to tour and play out their unique brand of post-metal in front of live audiences. Check out Trenches on Bandcamp and Facebook, and for you vinyl nerds out there look for Reckoner to be made available for purchase soon.