Final version of this review available here.
For Millennials, the term “comeback album” has taken on a different connotation than it holds for older generations of fans. In an increasingly fast-paced industry, the elapsed time required to peg any release a “comeback” has shrunk exponentially. After the multiplatinum 1984, Generation X and the latter portion of the Baby Boomers had to wait 28 years to hear another Van Halen studio effort with David Lee Roth. Ace Frehley of Kiss took 20 years to follow up his 1989 solo record Trouble Walkin’ with Anomaly in 2009. Meanwhile, in the 2000s, fans of the Yellowcard or the Backstreet Boys had to sit patiently through excruciating two-year hiatuses before both bands emerged with triumphant “comebacks” (2011’s When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes and 2005’s Never Gone, respectively).
So whether or not Along the Shadow – Saosin’s third full-length LP and first after years of speculation regarding the band’s future – is a “comeback” album is up for debate. It’s perhaps a fitting term for vocalist Anthony Green, who rejoined the band in 2014 over ten years after he was initially replaced by Cove Reber. But musically, Along the Shadow presents itself instead as a distinct third era for one of the few bands still standing after the mid-2000s emo explosion.
Along the Shadow finds the California post-hardcore act pooling together a breadth of influences for a dynamic yet focused affair. The flailing hardcore punk agita of “The Secret Meaning of Freedom” instantly establishes itself as one of the most aggressive cuts in Saosin’s catalogue, even when taking a slight breather towards the end. Elsewhere, hints of Sing the Sorrow-era AFI are all over these 40 minutes, especially on the stellar “Ideology is Theft”.
Then there are the LP’s thinly veiled nods to Metal, which shouldn’t be all too shocking to fans that have been with the band since 2003’s Translating the Name EP, which snuck in some metallic worship in its final minute (the latter half of “They Perched on Their Stilts”). 13 years later, the sludgy intro to “Old Friends” is pure Black Sabbath, while sugary Iron Maiden-style guitar harmonies close out “Control and the Urge to Pray”. Along the Shadow features a more muscular and less neutered guitar tone than the solid but underwhelming In Search of Solid Ground, allowing these passages their proper crunch.
Green pounces on this varied musical bed by alternating between a piercing screech and a more polished croon. The somber “Sore Distress” gives the latter center stage, with Green overwhelmed by his own despondency as he sings lyrics like “Your voice is unforgiving/this feeling’s eating me alive”. On “The Secret Meaning of Freedom”, he swaps the two vocal approaches in and out constantly, and on “Old Friends” uses them simultaneously in a twisted layering.
At its worst, Along the Shadow can be merely inoffensively dull. “Racing Toward a Red Light” finds its forgettable refrain whizzing by without a trace, upstaged by a melodic bridge that is more attention-grabbing than the song’s main course. “The Stutter Says a Lot” suffers from similar faults. The trite “Second Guesses” completes a trifecta of misses, drenched in an excessive vocal harmony assault that leaves it feeling claustrophobic.
But these brief lows are compensated for by “Ideology is Theft”, “Count Back from Ten”, and the closing one-two punch of “Illusion and Control” and “Control and the Urge to Pray”, all outstanding justifications for the hype train behind the LP. In addition to Green’s strongest singing on all of Along the Shadow, the infectious guitar riff in the “Ideology is Theft” chorus makes the song immediately satisfying. “Count Back from Ten” is reminiscent of the band’s excellent self-titled debut, except its apex is a commanding harmonized guitar bridge that could wander its way onto a New Wave of American Heavy Metal album by the likes of Avenged Sevenfold or Trivium. Finally, “Illusion and Control” and “Control and the Urge to Pray” conclude the record with tight and compact embodiments of Saosin circa 2016.
Along the Shadow successfully revives the shining bullet points on Saosin’s resume and builds on them with vigorous performances, inspired songwriting, and a touch more aggression. It maintains its integrity while successfully adapting to a musical landscape ten years beyond its style’s heyday.