What an intriguing progression for this band.
As Cities Burn, best known for their breakout (well, in ‘faith-based music,’ anyway) 2005 album, Son, I Loved You At Your Darkest, got less heavy as their days together waned. By the end, line-up changes and maturation led to the group all but abandoning their early sound, to the dismay of a good deal of their fan base.
I’d compare this to what happened to Showbread after the release of Age of Reptiles. Same time period, too. No Sir, Nihilism is Not Practical was released in 2004, a year before SILYAYD, and what happened? They took off a bit of the edge and listeners left in droves.
The arc of ACB’s shift in style was obvious with Come Now Sleep, came out two years after SILYAYD. After that album was released and the tour cycle completed, singer TJ Bonnette, brother of guitarist and vocalist Cody Bonnette, left the group to pursue being a married man professionally (which is a typical tale of Tooth & Nail alum, genre notwithstanding). There was even a point where the band officially broke up, but pulled a clever “take backsies” and released CNS, an album that sounds nothing like its predecessor.
I get it. I do. Music lovers looking for a certain sound are bound to be upset by a group’s refusal to produce a sequel to the thing that they loved (henceforth referred to as That Thing You Loved Part 2: Electric Boogaloo). It’s hard not to want more of that thing that you loved so much.
So it should come as no surprise then, that, being artists, the boys of As Cities Burn did the exact opposite of what you came to expect, and instead wrote a fairly competent and straightforward rock record. Their final release is called Hell or High Water, and it’s now that it’s been out over 4 years, I can say that it’s good, but not great.
The chorus of opener “’84 Sheepdog,” a reference to, yes, Dumb and Dumber, contains an infectious line within its chorus: “They fixed your brain, when you were wrong, before you knew the difference.”
On the surface, the line reads like a very Judeo-Christiany statement: ‘they’ being the outside world. But to flip the script, it could serve also as commentary against the close-minded people who signed the band, or led brought them to their success in some way.
Much of Hell or High Water will play out as underwhelming in the face of, say, a song like the uproarious “Incomplete is a Leech.” Downright limp, really. Hearing a track like “Daughter” for the first time will make listeners question if this is even the same band that wrote a classic, Top 5 all-time Tooth & Nail post-hardcore record.
If you can get past that fact, then this is a decent rock record because of its clean guitar tones and production. In retrospect, and looking through the lens of the rest of their discography, it is not fair to call it an As Cities Burn release. Sounds very much like a Hawkboy release.
I think I may have just talked myself into “meh.” Whoops.
From As Cities Burn’s Hell or High Water, this is “Capo” –
Standout tracks: “’84 Sheepdog,” “Lady Blue,” and “Petty”
Weakest track: “Daughter”
RIYL: Jonezetta, I guess?