I know that it has been almost a week since its release and I have wanted to review it for so long but as some of you know, Alexisonfire are my favourite band, and I did not want to do something that would come across as biased. I also did not have the time until I was 30,000+ feet up in the air on my way to St Catharines, so here we go.
In 2010 the music world was shaken when it was announced that Alexisonfire would be no more. No one could believe it, even the band couldn’t even quite believe it. Everyone thought it was truly over. That was until 2019 when the band came back with a few singles, ‘Familiar Drugs’, ‘Dogs Blood’, ‘Complicit’ and ‘Season of the Flood’, which filled all of us with a glimmer of hope that one day the five-piece band from St. Cathartines, Ontario, Canada would get back full time. Lead singer George Pettit went on to become a Firefighter / First Responder, drummer – Jordan ‘Ratbeard’ Hastings filled in as Billy Talent’s drummer, guitarist – Wade MacNeil joined the English punk band, Gallows as well as started his own project, Dooms Children. Chris Steele, the band’s bassist decided to take a completely different route and tour the world on his own accord. Then that leaves Dallas Green, guitarist and vocalist was the one to originally quit Alexisonfire to pursue his solo project City & Colour which went on to be nominated and win awards. It also led to a collaboration with pop-singer, Pink.
Just when we all thought the only band ever had decided enough was enough, who knew that after a global pandemic and numerous lockdowns later, we would get the surprise that they were finally making a comeback. The announcement of their much anticipated first album release in 13 years was met with shock, awe and full-on excitement within the fan base and music industry.
They teased us all with the first single from the record, “Sweet Dreams of Otherness”, which was also accompanied by a new music video directed by Canadian actor, Jay Baruchel. It gave us a glimpse into a brand-new era of Alexisonfire, one that seemed to come with a more mature, muddy, and gritty sounding band yet something that was undeniably, Alexisonfire.
You know a band is growing up / maturing when the first line of their album is, “Hey You, get the fuck off my lawn.” Not something you would ever expect to hear as an opening line, but this is the case with the first track, ‘Committed to the Con’. The harsh and low bass tones and blistering on this track and I am fully here for it. It gives everything you want from an Alexis song, heavy instruments, a memorable chant like chorus and ferocious vocals.
Sweet Dreams of Otherness, as previously mentioned if the first track to be released, at first, everyone thought it was just going to be a stand-alone song but oh how were we wrong. This track is song is just quintessential Alexisonfire. It is slightly reminiscent of the Old Crows / Young Cardinals days but packs an even bigger punch. According to interviews, this was Dallas’ baby all along, he – along with the band - conceived it, nurtured it and birthed it into this phenomenal song that will most definitely have to be one of the top songs in all the end of year charts.
One of the things that Alexisonfire do so well is they know how to go from a song like Sweet Dreams of Otherness to a song like Sans Soleil flawlessly. If you have become acquainted with Doom’s Children at all over AOF’s hiatus, then you will probably notice the similarities. Wade MacNeil has perfected the stoner rock sound with deep and meaningful lyrics. It gives you and insight into the hardships we can all face in life but how there will always be something that will pull you through those times. Going by the reactions of the fanbase, this seems to be the one that hits hardest on a personal level and speaks volumes to many of the listeners. It also has a Sade vibe to it which you can’t complain about. This is another track where Dallas takes the reigns of the vocals, which hauntingly just sits perfect over the music. It would be interesting to hear how it would have sounded with Wade singing his own song, since we all know the guy can sing but I also think that when you have a vocalist like Dallas in your band, you could give him the phone book to sing, and it would sound angelic.
Conditional Love is one of those that up there with the likes of Complicit, it has catchy as hell hooks and George’s vocals are sounding supreme. One of the things the band has touched upon during interviews is that they are lucky enough to be a band with three vocalists and this is one of the tracks on the album that truly shows how diverse the band is. There are always a few songs on an album that you can instantly see being a huge crowd at a show and this definitely one of those tracks.
From listening to the behind the songs videos the band made, as soon as they started talking about Blue Spade, I knew it was the track that I just had to hear. Not only did the truly realise the three-vocalist dynamic but they also got to throw another songwriter into the mix in the shape of bass player, Chris Steele. For the first time in 20 years, Chris felt confident and comfortable enough to present lyrics to the band and this track proves, he should have done it such a long time ago. I always dread when I hype a thing up in my head that it won’t deliver but for me, personally, this song is one of Alexisonfire’s most elite. Another first for this album was George taking on some singing duties and Blue Spade showcases his hidden singing talents. There is something so pure about George not screaming these words and letting the lyrics resonate with the fans, by the time Dallas comes in with those impressive pipes, you will be an emotional wreck. The musicality of the song, the drums being pronounced to really drive it home but not take over just fits beautifully. In all, Steele needs to write more songs.
With ‘Otherness’, the production has been kept so precise that it almost gives a storytelling feel to the overall record. Each song has the same guttural tone to it and it seems like the band have truly found a sound that suits them all. It gives a mood and feeling throughout that you can’t quite put your finger on. Dark Night of the Soul feels like a throwback to early Alexisonfire but with keyboard/organist extraordinaire, Matt Kelly, bring this track to a whole new level. Its sounds you probably wouldn’t expect on this type of record, but it just works! A few people may have been sceptical about how an organ would sound on an AOF track but it really seems to round off the sound in a way that would normally be unimaginable.
If you are a fan of songs like Rough Hands and It Was Fear of Myself That Made Me Odd, then Mistaken Information is your song. Another track that shows off just how well the vocals of Dallas, Wade and George complement each other. With Dallas, George and Wade having three completely different vocal styles, the way they are layered over each other sits so beautifully and showcases each one and not one is overpowering the other.
As I said before, Blue Spade is probably the top song for me so far, but it is very closely followed by this anthemic song, Survivor’s Guilt. Pulling on George’s experiences as a Fire Fighter and first responder, feeling that guilt and taking on the guilt of survivors. It also taps into the feeling many others felt throughout the pandemic. Many lost friends and family to Covid, and many were left wondering how they got through it, but others did not. It also speaks to those battling any illness or struggle, some others can pull themselves through, yet others cannot. When you hear Matt’s synth at the start, you could not imagine the direction the song pulls you in. It’s a perfect mix of powerful lyrics with sing along moments.
The second track the band released was, Reverse the Curse, which is in a nutshell, an absolute killer song. This has been in the works for a very long time, it was originally supposed to be Young Cardinals, but it just was not working out for that track. Another one penned by Chris, it draws on his struggles with addictions and feeling a little lost in the world. It’s poetically beautiful but with that anthemic style AOF have perfected.
When I first heard the opening notes of World Stops Turning, I honestly instantly thought of either O’Sister or Body in a Box by City & Colour but when you’re writing songs that aren’t particularly for either band, it would be hard to not hear the musical style that we have all associated with C&C. People are calling this the new, Happiness By The Kilowatt, and I would probably agree but this has that stoner rock with some Pink Floyd thrown in for good measure. I couldn’t imagine this song fitting anywhere else on the album. It started as a love song but ended up being Dallas’ love letter to his band mates which makes it even more powerful. Even though all these years have passed, the core being of Alexisonfire is the true love these guys have for each other as well as the trust they have in one another. I could not imagine any other band being away for 13 years and being able to produce an album like this.
People will probably read this and think I am being completely biased but the amount of people I have seen that are either newly connecting or reconnecting with Alexisonfire has been incredible. There is no other band that does it quite like this modest bunch from southern Ontario.
Otherness will be on every single end of year chart as one of the best to be released this year but it is honestly one of the best this decade.
Make sure you catch the guys doing their four day hometown shows in St Catharine’s this weekend! June 30th and July 1st is City & Colour – who will also be playing Sometimes in full on the Thursday and July 2nd/3rd is when Alexisonfire take over, Sunday they will be playing their selt titled album from start to finish for the first time ever! Also check out their site for all other upcoming tour dates and make sure you get along to atleast one of them.
Make sure Otherness is streaming down your ear canals, you will never regret it.