East of the Wall make inroads to excellency on ‘The Apologist’

There’s both good and bad to a band feeling its way around and trying to figure out what’s best for its direction. On one hand, you can get some fascinating music that, while it’ll change completely the next album, gives a neat portrait as to where the group is at a very specific moment in time. For example, Dillinger Escape Plan have morphed into something different with each record, and every step has been a blast for me. Many others disagree with that statement. You also can get a series of disasters from a group of musicians who have no idea what they’re doing, and it can undo the group’s future.

Jersey’s East of the Wall certainly have been searching their way toward a sound, hands against the walls, pushing toward the light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe they’ll be exploring forever, and maybe no set way of doing things will satisfy the band, but as long as they keep trying, I’m willing to keep coming back to hear what they’ve created. The band’s instrumental debut “Farmer’s Almanac” was an interesting, promising first salvo of a full-length, but their sophomore effort “Ressentiment,” where they worked vocals into their music, didn’t really fire on all cylinders. It’s not a bad record, really, it just wasn’t a terribly rewarding follow-up. At the time, I questioned their decision to add vocals simply because they weren’t terribly inspired and sounded average, basically not adding much to the band’s sound. Why did they need to go there? But they obviously felt they wanted vocals to be a part of East of the Wall, so it would take until they made more music to find out if they really could make them work.

That answer is here with the arrival of the band’s third full-length “The Apologist,” a 12-track album that is their second for Translation Loss. Like their last album and the one before it, things change and we get another chance to meet this band all over again. It’s a proggy, post-metal-flavored platter that digs into jazz, math rock, hardcore and sludge, and yes, they’ve stuck with vocals. But this time they work. They don’t dominate the proceedings and edge their way into a territory in which they don’t entirely belong. In fact, we don’t even get singing on all of the tracks as there are a handful of instrumental cuts that hint more toward the ideas they had when making their debut. Another plus is all of these songs blend together nicely, and the flow feels natural. I get the idea East of the Wall are getting closer to a musical awakening, and as strong as “The Apologist” is for the most part, my guess is album four might be the earth shaker.

Folks into bands such as Between the Buried and Me, Cave In, Cynic, Pelican, Botch, Rosetta and even Opeth could find enjoyment from this album. It’s exciting and surging, it mind-blowingly well-played, and it’s the most accessible work of the band’s short run. As players, they’ve never sounded better, more capable and more deadly. The quintet – guitarists/vocalists Matt Lupo, Kevin Conway, and Chris Alfano, bassist/vocalist Brett Bamberger, drummer Seth Rheam – leaps right into “Naif,” with a feedback squall and sludgy riffs that eventually are evened out by a calmer sequence and cleaner vocals, and the cut runs right into “Linear Failure,” a punchy, jazzy, blistering piece of work that lets the guys get their knuckles bloody. “False Build” is one of the most aggressive, threatening cuts on the album with shouted/shrieked vocals and soaring guitar lines; the excellent title cut runs more than seven minutes and certainly doesn’t hold back on the drama; “Whiskey Sipper” sounds more like it came from the deranged mind of a whiskey binger, as it levels you and throws all the household furniture around with no regard for what’s around. The instrumental cuts serve to relive the tension and build toward what’s next, though they’re not interludes. They do stand on their own, and the best of the bunch are “My Favorite Society Guy”; the punk-powered “Running Tab of Sweetness”; and eerie, spacey “Nurser of All Hurts.”

“The Apologist” is not a perfect album by any means, and East of the Wall certainly can tighten up some loose ends and trim some fat around the edges. Sometimes even the really good songs on here last a little too long. I like that the vocals sound better and more impassioned and that they play more of a role with everything else instead of taking main stage. It works for them, and I imagine that idea will only serve them well in the future. But I see this record as a big step toward the promised land for them and not the arrival itself. They are capable of great things, and if this is the leap that precedes that, then I’m excited. “The Apologist” is steady as it goes, and as long as East of the Wall uses it as a building block, then it will have served its purpose.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.eastofthewall.com/

To buy “The Apologist,” go here: http://translationloss.com/store.htm

For more on the label, go here: http://translationloss.com/