In 2011, with the impressive Parting the Sea Between Brightness And Me, post-hardcore band Touché Amoré somehow reached new heights of both heaviness and melody. In 2013, they’ve bested themselves. Making music more emotional, frantic and yet polished than ever before, thanks to the help of producer Brad Wood (who has produced albums by The Smashing Pumpkins, Sunny Day Real Estate and, most notably, Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville), Touché Amoré have released one of the best hardcore albums of 2013 – a year full of great ones. And, like recent instant classics by labelmates Converge and Deafheaven, Touché Amoré’s Is Survived By has the potential to reach an audience beyond those who listen to heavy music solely for its sheer inspiring nature.
Indeed, from the opening chords of lead track Just Exist, you know that Is Survived By will be filled with both melodic guitar tones and cathartic vocals from frontman Jeremy Bolm. That is, the quiet guitars inevitably give way to Bolm’s emotional screams about existence and mortality. It’s an exhilarating two-minute rush and an effective start to the record. Second track To Write Content features similar doubts from Bolm about writer’s block, artistic integrity and legacy, as does Just Exist, but it includes a quieter, natural midsection that separates it and helps it rise above Just Exist. Meanwhile, third track and one minute-long Praise/Love starts with similar soft, emotive guitars and bass coupled with Bolm’s deep-throated emo screams that Wood places low in the mix.
But what’s perhaps most notable about Praise/Love is something that’s emblematic about the record as a whole: aggressive drums never surface. Indeed, Is Survived By is not so much a hardcore album but an emo album in the traditional sense of the word. Bolm is not afraid to express or get in touch with his emotions, whether it’s talking about what people expect of him on Anyone/Anything or about his daddy issues on DNA. It’s absolutely refreshing. And most importantly, the band knows when to kick in with an instrumental assault of guitars and drums: not on a track like Praise/Love, one that begs you to listen to Bolm, but certainly on a frenetic track like Social Catepillar, where Bolm finally considers his own happiness. “I circled myself with pretty people to hide who I was,” he screams; not only does listening to his scream practically make your own throat hurt, but you actually buy his whining and empathize with him. Especially when he shares some perspective: “Don’t worry, I still get dizzy in the usual situations / But it’s those instances I have used to ground me on occasion.”
Lastly, a sure standout is Non-Fiction, a gorgeous, slow-burning, but rising track that eventually explodes, cementing Touché Amoré as masters at their own sound. It’s a track that impressively reaches the beauty of some of the interludes between heavy tracks on Deafheaven’s mammoth Sunbather. And you never want it to end; you only want it to keep rising and rising, taking you along for its ride into the heavens. Overall, Touché Amoré’s shift to the emotional and the subtle at times, without sacrificing the exhilarating annihilation that characterizes their music, renders Is Survived By dynamic and of higher quality than anything they’ve done before. It’s primed to reach a wider audience. “So write a song that everyone can sing along to,” yelps Bolm on the life-affirming title track, also the album’s closing track. If only it was as easy as Touché Amoré make it look.