Thursday, February 24, 2011

Mesa Verde-The Old Road

The fusion of screamo and post-rock has created some truly depressing albums. City of Caterpillar's self-titled and Circle Takes the Square's violent masterpiece As the Roots Undo come to mind, especially. But none of them quite act as the literal soundscape for hopelessness and despair as Mesa Verde's album The Old Road. And what neither of the aforementioned albums manage to capture which The Old Road does perfectly is the unmistakable beauty that can be found in a proclamation of such sadness.

While post-rock/screamo has become formulaic within the genre over the last decade, Mesa Verde make the combination work to the best possible effect. The opener "A Deep Sleep Without Dreams" is a pure instrumental piece which jumps back and forth from a sort of metallic shoegaze to the fast octave riffing of hardcore. "For the Tree that Fell" then launches into a more typical modern hardcore sound, with chaotic guitars combined with frantic vocals. The album truly launches its sound, however, when the song lurches to a halt and quavering vocals sing a few strained lines over clean, reverb-soaked guitars. It's a stunning moment of self-realization for the band, and unveils the true beauty of The Old Road's sound- a gloomy yet gorgeous blend of chaos and softness that sucks you into its prevailing mood of despair.

Each of the songs on The Old Road have that kind of pivotal moment that makes each of them special, whether it's the reprising guitar line on "When the Canary Dies" or the soaring, triumphant guitar climax of "Return to Victories" which makes its appearance after a long interlude of clean guitars and softly chanted vocals. The real centerpiece of the album, however, is the 13-minute closer, "Post-youth". While it starts fairly typically, constructing a complex structure of fast riffs and violent screams, at exactly the halfway point it completely collapses upon itself and a lone guitar line emerges from the noise, playing a dominating, gloomy melody while the vocalist chants "one day my dreams will meet my fears..". This continues for a time, with various guitar parts being added on top of the existing one, and with the tempo increasing until the song explodes in a moment of catharsis as beautiful as it is tear-jerkingly sad. It's one of the most powerful expressions of human depression of the last decade, and by itself makes the album absolutely essential to hear.

The Old Road is one of the last truly classic albums of a fading genre, a monument to everything that made screamo great and a nod to the sounds that began to influence it later in its life, like shoegaze and post-rock. Above all, The Old Road is a wonderful, concise piece of music that seems to pass much more quickly than its 35-minute running time. If you had any doubts about the quality of modern hardcore, let The Old Road be their burial place, and the gateway into a fantastic, under-appreciated genre.

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