Surely by now you have heard the good word: almost two years ago, Anthony Green rejoined Saosin, the band he fronted back in the early to mid-2000s, for a series of long-awaited headlining dates. It was unknown at the time whether the band would ever reconvene for a proper full-length with Green on vocals. But sure enough, here we are in 2016, and Saosin has just released Along The Shadow, their first full-length in seven years. The titular shadow could well refer to the dark specter of expectation that looms over this comeback album.
Could it satiate the group that has been waiting for the “real Saosin” to return for 12 years? Could is simultaneously appeal to the people who stuck around or joined up during the Cove-era and have been (im)patiently waiting for 7 years for the follow-up to 2009’s In Search of Solid Ground? Could it perhaps even bring in new fans, spurred on by their love of Circa Survive, or Anthony Green’s solo efforts? All of these questions created the great unknown of Saosin’s Along The Shadow, and with all these groups expecting something vastly different from the record, how can an album possibly appeal to them all?
Perhaps because Circa Survive has become something of a juggernaut in the alternative rock space, while Cove Reber-fronted Saosin had some iconic, anthemic choruses of their own (“Voices,” “You’re Not Alone”), audiences may think of Saosin as a group that always had an earworm song up their sleeves. But the record that birthed Saosin, Translating The Name, was not particularly hook-laden. Despite its genre designation of melodic hardcore, Translating The Name’s signature song, “Seven Years” barely has what one would usually call a chorus.
It’s fascinating to see Green and Saosin bring together the pop sensibilities they have developed over the past 12 years in their respective projects. Huge choruses are the currency of Along The Shadow. Whether its the slick swagger in the refrain of “Racing Toward a Red Light,” or the ominous timbre of “Sore Distress,” each song brings a distinct flair that can only have come from thirteen years of work-shopping the songwriting process apart from each other.
The song construction leads to a delicate push/pull dynamic and the cathartic release of building energy. On “Second Guesses” these songwriting techniques mesh together beautifully as a pleading, staccato guitar riff unfolds brilliantly into the soaring zenith of the record.
I find Green’s vocals and lyrics on “Second Guesses” to be a personal standout. The relentless passion he envelops the song with transforms what would otherwise be a fairly rote mid-tempo post-hardcore ballad into an anthem the likes of which the genre hasn’t seen since the aforementioned “You’re Not Alone.” The lyrics are also some of the most honest and introspective of his career. Green went through a much-publicized battle with substance abuse, one that he wrote about fairly extensively on Circa Survive’s last album Decensus, but nothing before quite touched the way he approaches his sobriety and the clarity it has given him as on “Second Guesses:”
In the way it felt
I can see it was real
I won’t be the only one carrying on
No one could have known
All of our pockets had holes
Sober up and you can see
More than what you wanted
Longtime fans were understandably worried when it was announced that guitarist Justin Shekoski was departing the band right before the recording of Along The Shadow. It appears that the decision to part ways with Shekoski didn’t have a tremendous detriment on the guitar work for the album. The guitar remains just as much in the forefront of Saosin’s sound, and Burchell still has a knack for finding the perfect guitar tone to take even a simple riff to the next level. He also knows exactly when to scale back his involvement to allow for Green’s vocals to take center stage, or to let the still-immensly-talented Alex Rodriguez rip a groove on the drums. You can see this delicate push/pull in action most vividly on “Count Back from Ten” where Burchell kickstarts the song before noodling his way delicately and quietly through the entirety of the first verse.
The only song on the record that never particularly stuck out to me on repeated listens is “The Secret Meaning of Freedom” — a Comeback Kid-esque double-time hardcore punk number. The song would’ve worked if not for the overlay of clean backing vocals behind Green’s urgent snarl. The clean vocals feel out of place in the song and don’t really add anything until the more reserved bridge where they are placed front and center.
Even the album’s weakest song provides a great deal of insight into the mindset of its creators, as “The Secret Meaning of Freedom” gives us the answer to the rhetorical questions posed in the outset of this review: “Pretend I’ll be disappointed of the outcome, but secretly everything is how I planned. They wanted us to be afraid.”
Whether or not fans of the Translating the Name era, fans of the Cove Reber era, fans of Circa Survive, critics, or anyone else likes the new Saosin album, Green knew that one thing had to happen for Saosin to continue to exist. They all had to love making music with each other again. Along The Shadow is a testament to that rediscovered joy of collective creativity. Along The Shadow may not be the best thing Saosin has ever, or perhaps will ever, put out, but its bursting with boundless energy; a youthful and engrossing benchmark for a band whose current configuration last made an album together more than a decade ago.