Looking back on the tenth anniversary of Silverstein’s fourth studio album, A Shipwreck in the Sand, is an interesting project and it in many ways is a snapshot of the state of the world we were living in. Coming off a slightly commercially and critically disappointing third album in Arrivals & Departures, the band felt a sense of urgency to deliver a great record. Silverstein turned once again to the Discovering the Waterfront producer, Cameron Webb, to help them create an early-career landmark album in their discography. The themes of betrayal, loss, war, and the problems with the US health care system are prevalent throughout this LP. Self-described by the band as being one of their “heaviest” records in their career, this album takes us on a four chapter journey in the form of a captivating concept record.
“Chapter One – It Burns Within Us All” kicks off the record with some heavy guitars, pounding drums, and howling vocals courtesy of front-man Shane Told. This introductory song, “A Great Fire” features some of the best contrasts of heavier screams compared to a strong melodic chorus. Told uses the metaphor of a fire in the lyrics of the chorus when he sings, “I can see through the flames/That the fire cleanses me/Mind and soul now the same/And my body guides the way.” It’s a clear statement that this character in the story concept is looking for a way to start anew even as his world around him crumbles.
The first single released from the record, “Vices,” follows this song with some guest vocals from Cancer Bats’ singer, Liam Cormier. It’s in this track that we gain greater exposure to the headspace of the lead character in the story, as well as his struggle to cope with the changes going on in his ill-fated life. The bridge of the track is the person’s early breaking point of sorts, with lyrics such as, “I’m not coming home tonight/I’d rather sleep on the street/I’m not coming home to you/I won’t sleep with the devil.” The lead character is expressing the conflict in his life, the outside distractions of alcoholism, as well as the relationship highlighted here that is tearing apart at the seams. The song itself is an excellent representation of the content and themes found on Shipwreck, so it made perfect sense as an introduction to a new record and lead single.
The first chapter comes to a close in “Broken Stars” which continues to paint a fractured relationship and the lead character coming to terms with where he needs to go from this point on. The cool hook of “My mind’s made up” features some abrupt starts and stops to the music around the words and solidifies the point Silverstein was trying to get across in their story. The song itself was originally written during the Arrivals & Departures sessions, but it would be hard to imagine that song in the realm of that particular album, as “Broken Stars” just clicks better with the content and musical styles found in Shipwreck.
“Chapter Two – Liars, Cheaters and Thieves” brings the deceit to an all-time high in this character’s life, and the music reflects that. “American Dream” paints the picture of the character at his wedding day wondering what he sees in his relationship, and makes it clear that this decision is one big “mistake.” The track turned out to be one of the strongest songs on the LP with some great bass lines from Billy Hamilton driving the song into the upper echelon of hits in their catalog. There are brief moments of hope from the character’s perspective saying, “We get through this/Feeling it, keeping it, holding it in.” It’s hard to not root for him at this point in the story, as he needs a reprieve from the chaos going on around him. “Their Lips Sink Ships” serves as a nice interlude for the listener to catch their breath on the heavy themes and weight of the story. Other songs such as “I Knew I Couldn’t Trust You” finds the fictitious character reflecting on the early stages of his life with this person and how his premonitions came true in the most painful of ways. Told sings through this character’s perspective, “I knew I couldn’t trust you back when we were kids./You sold me out; you ran and hid from all your problems/ Can’t even face your friends, your best friend.” Its a heartbreaking moment on the record, especially as this story unfolds. The bookend of chapter two, “Born Dead,” features guest vocals from Scott Wade (Comeback Kid) and drives home the fucked up American healthcare system. Wade and Told share back and forth vocal barbs in the introductory verse when they scream, “You call this a privilege/No, I call it a right/There’s no respect for life/No compromising/Coverage denied (Coverage denied).” It’s sadly an issue that is still just as much in flux today as it was ten years ago and hits just as hard as it was intended to now.
“Chapter Three – Fight Fire With Fire” opens with the title track, and finds Shane Told acting as a narrator of sorts into the deep stages of the story of a doomed vessel’s journey for more resources that will never come. The story breaks away again for insight into the lead character when he sings an anthem of sorts, “This union, a battle fought and lost/This union is not about the cause/The union was never about love.” It’s a message of saying that this battle he is fighting in the relationship is not about shifting the blame but examining why he even chose to fight the battle in the first place if love was never there. This all shifts aggressively into arguably Silverstein’s heaviest song ever, “I Am the Arsonist,” that features some great guitar work from now former guitarist Neil Boshart, and Josh Bradford. It’s also a point in the story where the lead character is saying, “Fuck it; let’s burn it all down.” He quickly comes to terms with the aftermath in “You’re All I Have,” that showcases the character at his most vulnerable. He comes across as a person who has been to war, lost, and is now hoping that this worthless relationship is still worth saving. This all sets everything up brilliantly for the climax of the story in “Chapter Four – Death and Taxes.”
Opening off with a tongue-in-cheek title, “We Are Not the World,” it tells the story of how all his struggles may have been for naught with the impending war closing in around him. Told makes this clear in the bridge when he states, “And now that war has been declared/How long until bombs burst in air?/We’ve come too far/Just to let this die, to throw this away.” In a record filled with many disheartening moments in the character’s life, this one may take the cake. “A Hero Loses Everything” works as a logical follow-up to the song, “Call It Karma” from Discovering the Waterfront by revisiting the theme of redemption. Told’s words ring true for not only the fictitious character but as a message of hope for those who may be experiencing something similar when he sings, “It’s so pathetic/I hate you so much but I still miss you/Karma is hard to change/When everything you do and say is awful/Remorse is hard to fake/When you only feel sorry for yourself.” By the time we reach “The End,” the character is reminiscing about how it all fell apart as his home and world burn around him. It feels very much like an apocalyptic setting as Told sings, “We’ll both die tonight,” and he continues to describe the war around the character leading to his impending death.
The story itself is filled with so many heavy concepts of war, self-worth, betrayal, substance abuse, and death. It would be easy to get lost in the lore surrounding the entire epic story that is centered around a toxic relationship that was doomed from the start. Silverstein can look back fondly on this tenth anniversary of A Shipwreck in the Sand by realizing that they pushed themselves to their creative limits and made a record that is worthy of our time and attention to this day. While I didn’t initially gravitate to this record as quickly as Discovering the Waterfront, it has come to be a record that I still consider to be one of Silverstein’s best and most diverse albums in their discography.