There aren’t that many heavy handed emo bands out there that I’ve connected with. The trend seems to have veered off towards the more scream-core type antics of the darker inclusions in the Rise Records and Pure Noise Records rosters. Bands like MIss May I, Palisades, The Secrets, Counterparts, and so on seem to dominate the more visceral, emotionally unstable quadrant of the emo/screamo world – none of which interest me in the slightest.
Meanwhile, many of those that tend to operate more firmly in the vocally raw emo realm like My Iron Lung and You Blew It place far too much focus on the mechanics of screaming without offering much of an opportunity for the audience to connect or emphasize. That’s where The Saddest Landscape stands leaps and bounds over its multitude of peers. The long running Boston emo staple somehow projects a rare emotional awareness that affords every element of chaos a turn to be heard. Better still, the quintet seems to get more adept with age, making their latest full length, Darkness Forgives, a much needed boost to the genre.
Opener “Once We Were Immortal” leads the charge with the twist of the knife inherent in the line “I want to close my eyes and see more than darkness.” The album’s desire for early resolve takes the form of desperately seeking counsel in the blackest of nights. Guitars squeal between verses as Maddox’s belted strain embodies the internal struggle between cowering in fear and resilient counterattack. The theme of hope in troubled times remains deceptively optimistic if you piece the clues together – even if each one is shrouded in all encompassing darkness. Take the big, gang vocal infused chorus of “Souls Worth Saving.” “We’ll run run run until we’re free” defies Maddox as the band accelerates through feverous drumming and frantic guitar without as much as a glance over their shoulder.
As Darkness Forgives runs its course, The Saddest Landscape locks into the turbulent ups and downs so characteristic of the genre’s most expressive insights. When they plunge into the emotional void, songs like “‘Til Our Ears Bleed” play out by reeling back the curtain of ominous riffs as Maddox lowers his voice to a mumble in what becomes a comparatively calm chant among bandmates. “Cause we’re still singing, like we mean it, and I’m still screaming, you’ve still got a friend in me,” reassures Maddox. Balance is key between the ravenous fervor of “The Fire Between Heartbeats” and self restraint of “All Grace Intact.” What seems to be unyielding at one moment turns into caution in the next. Guitars echo in isolation before being paired by percussive elements. As the song unfolds, a foreboding feeling swells like the grievous anticipation of impending disaster. Such communicative pacing and self restraint bestows meaning onto each accompanying throat driven breakdown and carefully navigated uproar.
As the album approaches its final moments, a trio of tunes gradually introduce a sense of resolve. First, “Archival” opens with the calmest intro of the album, maintaining a sense of deep-rooted hope expressed through the final anthemic cries of rising gang vocals. Next. “A Heaven Of Amplifiers” thrusts listeners back to the battlefield amongst harsh cries and rapid fire punk tempos, contrasting the darkness with a twinkling guitar that pierces like a ray of light. The fittingly titled finale, “Admitting You’re Alive,” concludes with a passage that finally infuses the phrase, “darkness forgives.” Like a butterfly shedding its cocoon and making its way up beyond a dark forest canopy, an essence of hopefulness and transcendence eventually strips away the chaotic, distorted feedback. The breakthrough lasts for but a fleeting moment, but serves as a rewarding end to such an abrasive journey.
Founded upon a base of turmoil, The Saddest Landscape accomplish what so many of their peers struggle with: forging a tumultuous but gratifying path. Like emerging from tragedy a stronger person, The Saddest Landscape offers no apologies for the loathsome realities encountered along the way. A sense of purpose resonates with each note, revealing a destination that can only be embraced by those walking in the same footsteps. Darkness Forgives is immensely satisfying, and is exemplary of one of the few heavy handed emo acts that are truly worth connecting with.