I've been listening to a lot of this stuff that's been coming out recently that pushes the modern emo sound's flirtation with metal past any recognizable limits, to the point where it's some different animal entirely. I can't be the only one who's digging on this stuff, either; a Spin article discussed all this stuff a couple months ago. In the middle of talking about bands I already dig, like Thrice and Coheed and Cambria, they brought up a band called Chiodos that I'd never heard of. Lumping a band I've never heard of in with bands I love amounts to a recommendation in my eyes, so I downloaded the Chiodos full-length, "All's Well That Ends Well," and sure enough, I love it. In fact, it's dominating my recent listening patterns even more than "Vheissu" and "Good Apollo I'm Burning Star IV", which is an achievement.
Chiodos remind me of Thrice, but not Thrice as they exist now. More like Thrice around the time of "The Illusion of Safety". On their first album, "Identity Crisis", Thrice had a pretty similar sound to a lot of the melodic punk acts that made the Fat Wreck Chords name, such as Strung Out and Good Riddance, and on "The Illusion of Safety", they started mixing in some serious metal riffage. It seemed like they were heading for some hypothetical borderline where emo-ish pop-punk crossed into full-on metal territory, but instead of continuing in that direction on "The Artist In the Ambulance", they made a completely emo record, one that left behind the metallic riffing and the skate-punk pop elements of their previous records. I didn't like it all that much, either.
Chiodos sound like what would have come an album or two in the future if Thrice had continued in the direction I saw them heading on "Illusion of Safety". Metal riffs dominate Chiodos's sound, to the point that I can't really see any justification in using the term emo to describe them. Nonetheless, I hear it, buried in there somewhere. The best possible explanation probably starts with their vocalist, who screams at times but far more often sings in a high-pitched voice that definitely takes some getting used to. There is an element of his voice that can only be described as shrill, and the higher the note he's hitting, the more that shrill element comes to the forefront. Maybe this is what would happen if Saves the Day's Chris Conley tried to front a metal band, and had to push his voice as hard as this guy does on every song. I know, that image isn't appealing to me either, and really none of what I'm saying about Chiodos's vocalist sounds like a good thing. On paper, it sounds terrible. But it appeals to me, and although I can't explain why, this guy's voice is one of the main things that stands out in my head as things I like about Chiodos's music. I guess the truth is that no matter how unappealing some elements of it are, the sound of emotion is very difficult to fake. The guy sounds wavery and teenaged, and some of his high notes are like fingernails on a chalkboard, but I certainly never question his sincerity.
The other element of Chiodos that's identifiably emo is their keyboard player. Keyboards show up in metal occasionally, but they're used in a completely different way than Chiodos use theirs. Rather than synth washes that provide an ominous background atmosphere, Chiodos's keyboard player mostly plays sweeping, melodic piano lines that inject an overt pop element into even the most metal of their riffs. There are many points throughout "All's Well That Ends Well" that would just sound like a metalcore band without the keyboard melodies and the vocalist's strangulated crooning. The added elements are a bit weird, but they save things from getting too generic and disappearing into the white noise of the by now ubiquitous metalcore sound. As far as I'm concerned, this is always a good thing.
Chiodos have plenty to offer where straight-up metal is concerned, though, and this is not a factor of their sound that I want to avoid or gloss over. The songs are structured like miniature epics, eschewing the standard verse-chorus rock pattern, instead flowing through riff after riff of lengthy chord progressions, in which the guitars and bass play harmonically off one another. Eventually, a climax is reached, generally either in the form of dramatic, pounding mosh riffs or quiet, brooding stretches of pure melody. Then the whole thing starts off again, generally with another crunching metal lead. It seems like a process that would get monotonous after a while, but even without the occasional shorter instrumental sections that break up the album's linear progression, the riffage is far too unique and interesting for the songs to blur together.
However, the intricate song structure Chiodos uses, combined with their tendency on "All's Well That Ends Well" to put little or no space between each song, can make it hard to tell where one song ends and another begins. The song I originally liked best on the album turned out to be two different ones--"All Nereids Beware" begins with a heavy verse that quickly plunges into a somewhat melodic chorus, then departs into epic riff-layering, spending at least a minute building tension before it finally reaches a second verse-chorus combination. After that, it never returns to that particular structural base, and I suppose I could be forgiven for thinking the change that comes around the four-minute mark from a quiet piano/vocal breakdown into yet another ascending-chord metal blastoff was just another transition in a particularly epic song. Instead, it's a transition into a different song entirely, "One Day Women Will All Become Monsters", which is a bit more melodically oriented than its predecessor and sports a completely different and far more engaging chorus. Despite the change between songs, these two songs just feel like different movements in a larger whole, and in fact every transition on this album could be explained in a similar way. The change from "Baby, You Wouldn't Last A Minute On the Creek"'s keyboard coda into the chugging guitar-and-drum duel that opens "The Words 'Best Friend' Become Redefined" is another place in which this seamless transitioning jumps out at the listener, and it feels like the entire album was structured this way on purpose. Individual songs still retain power on their own, but the whole thing is larger than the sum of its parts precisely due to transitions like this.
In light of this seemingly conscious sequencing method, "All's Well That Ends Well"'s dramatic conclusion takes on a greater significance, feeling more like the mindblowing final scene of a movie than just the end of a record. "To Trixie and Reptile, Thanks For Everything" is based around Chiodos's most unabashedly emo(tional) chorus, and while the song starts off as metallic as anything else on the album, it soon descends completely into the more dramatic environment created by said chorus. On the second verse, the singer harmonizes with himself on the lines "Knees go weak, and lips quiver, the split second before they meet." You can tell he's describing an important moment, and the music reflects that after the second chorus, dropping out almost completely and leaving a single repeating piano note. Things quickly start to build back up in intensity, and soon the band is pounding out a slow, octave-chord riff that sounds nothing like their usual metalcore fare. The singer is now proclaiming to someone that "if you believed what you felt you would be in love", and there is a palpable sense that everything the whole album has been building towards is slowly, inexorably going wrong, as the band fades out and we drift away on a mournful organ coda.
I have a feeling Chiodos are just getting going, that perhaps they will be even better in an album or two. I certainly hope this is the case, because "All's Well That Ends Well" hits me harder every time I play it. Right now, this stuff is really hitting the spot.
Maybe tomorrow I'll get into Thrice's new one, "Vheissu." As I said above, I was kind of disappointed in their third album. They've changed a lot yet again on this new one, though, and I this time I really like the direction they're going in. If I can get myself to write again in the near future, I'll explain what I mean. Til then, take care.