Story Of The Year – ‘Tear Me To Pieces’

By Ian Kenworthy

Growing old isn’t easy, yet it’s something everyone must do. Time goes on and if you’re lucky you can make your mark, you can make something matters. Story Of The Year have been around a while, they have made some great records. Best described as pop punk via Pantera, they mix catchy singalongs and hard riffs. On their new album they’re asking to be judged, they’re asking ‘Tear Me To Pieces’, which is unfortunate.

In 2003, their debut record ‘Page Avenue’ hit the zeitgeist. While similar bands like A Day To Remember flitted between pop and metal, Story of The Year blended metal riffs with big choruses, and were more sure of themselves but things have changed; that’s no longer true.

2017’s ‘Wolves’ flew under the radar. Its marketing cast the band as teenagers lost in the woods (riding BMXs) which was fitting, and perhaps the key to understanding this new record is also the album cover. It’s deliberately evocative of ‘Page Avenue’. It’s saying “Remember us? Remember when we mattered?” Maybe that’s cynical, but the band want to redefine themselves and their biggest hit is a good place to start.

Given the band has a history of big, powerful singles you’re probably not expecting the album to open with an acoustic guitar, but then whack – the song kicks in and it’s really satisfying. A catchy chorus, a few slick riffs, it’s exactly what you’d expect the band to be doing; not their best song, but solid and exciting. Similarly, ‘Real Life’ is pleasingly upbeat and inoffensive (musically, the lyrics touch on suicide), by using delayed guitar sounds in the verses it evokes many of their most popular singles. However it’s ‘Glow’ that really stands out; taking some big swings and shifts in style, it hits hard with a huge breakdown-style chorus, proving that they can update their sound and be exciting. Afterward, things start to go awry.

The middle section collides with reality; they’re not the band they were. When they’re going hard it’s a thrill but ‘Can’t Save You’ and ‘Ride’ struggle to keep the momentum up. They’re slow, vapid and tiresome, worse still they rely on the same trite production tricks every 2-bit band uses to pad out their sound, meaning they’re anaemic not anthemic. Yet the real low point is ‘2005’. Its light tropicana vibe is unusual but it’s also toothless. While Dan Marsala’s approach to lyrics is often simplistic, it’s usually effective but here he falls into the trap of wishing he was young, without interrogating that idea; he was young and dumb, but what has he learned, what do you as a listener have to take away? – it seems to be “go and listen to Page Avenue*” – which of course you then do, and discover he’s better than this. The band are better than this.

In many ways, the band’s new sound is due to the departure of lead guitarist Philip Snead. In place of his finesse they’re using a fat, chunky, processed sound. There’s still a heavy rock band underneath but it’s all rounded out by synths and there are breaks where electronic loops pop and fizzle. It’s the kind of sound Papa Roach have spent their career chasing, and it can sound massive but also has some real limitations. Largely this is down to the production, which is handled by Colin Brittain. On the one hand, the bassy end thumps and the heavy songs shift internally like tectonic plates to devastating effect. It’s particularly impressive on the title track or ‘Glow’ where the structure makes huge unexpected turns. However this over-emphasis does become wearing as there isn’t a lot of breathing space or fidelity (indeed the benefit of the dull ‘Ride’ is that it gives your ears a rest).

Some choices really hinder the album like the persistent washing ‘white noise’ lead guitar sound that has all the subtlety of an air raid siren. While electronic elements are heavily employed throughout, they are quite boilerplate and combined with the en-vogue production they often feel overworn and uninspired, sometimes even unwise. The inverted bass drops on ‘Use Me’ are inadvertently hilarious as no emotional song should feature an audible and farcical sssshlooop sound just before the chorus. It’s also difficult to explain why a big, hard-hitting song like ‘Knives Out’ is padded with weird choral style chants – it’s like they’re trying to sabotage themselves.

What’s worth pointing out is that Dan Marsala has a likeable singing voice and still has a good ear for a chorus, particularly on the rapid-fire aforementioned ‘Knives Out’. The dirty, angry sounds of ‘War’ and the glitchy ‘Dead and Gone’ give him chance to yell and the simple semi-acoustic ‘Sorry About Me’ really shows off his likeable singing style. There’s a lot to like here, but they’re making it hard work.

Story Of The Year want you to remember who they were. When ‘Tear Me To Pieces’ hits hard, it’s an adequate reminder but not the reinvention they were hoping for.

IAN KENWORTHY

*And of course, ‘Page Avenue’ isn’t their most accomplished record, just the most popular.

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