After proving competent in a low-key acoustic register with 2012’s Let the Fire Burn, Art of Dying is back in full rock n’ roll glory. Just last week, the Vancouver alternative quintet released Rise Up, their latest and most ambitious album to date. Fans have eagerly anticipated this album for three years, and with justified reason. This album sees a return to their definitive sound of punchy modern rock and tight harmonies. On just the first listen alone, it’s clear that the band has matured considerably, further proving the endurance of heavy music on a mainstream scale.
Even at this point in their career, not once have they lost sight of their goal—to build a solid and lasting rapport with as many listeners as possible. Accordingly, there is a prominent amount of accessibility in the album’s lyrical content. Vocalist Jonny Hetherington’s concepts are not only concise, but sincere, involving battles through states of uncertainty and learning to subsequently move forward. But while more typical instances of such concepts come across as talking down to a younger audience, there is no fakery here.
The first two tracks on the album, “Best Won’t Do” and the eponymous “Rise Up,” are anthems in their own right; both are chock full of metal-inspired riffing and endearing showmanship. It was smart on the band’s part to have the first track catalyze the other in terms of momentum. The execution of such momentum reinvigorates the inspiration that had graced fans during the band’s initial period. At a time when the listener might be marred by a slump of doubt, these tracks are effective in encouraging them to bounce back and keep on fighting. Don Donegan of Disturbed contributes a solo on the latter track that ventures into more of an alternative tone, its raw and fluctuating contrasts fitting comfortably amidst structured rhythms. As the album proceeds, it takes time before the balance of thickness and single potential is firmly established. Whereas the chorus in “Eat You Alive” emphasizes melodic guitar textures and denser vocals, “Dead Man Walking” does the opposite, although both tracks complement each other in relation to their placement. It should be noted that even with these differences in mind, the album’s ultimate pacing is left undeterred.
Toward the latter part of the album, I actually found “Raging” to closely resemble straight-ahead album rock. Its overdriven rhythms are backed by prominently clean progressions, and neither component seemed to outweigh the other. Another factor I appreciated was the extra couple of bars in the bridge that prepare the listener for the chorus, as many other mainstream bands tend to haphazardly “dive in”. And rather than serve as a typically big hook, it has the rhythm guitar simply repeat over a distant lead guitar melody, which is refreshing. The vibe experiences another shift into ballad territory on “One Day at a Time”, centering on an optimism against nearly crippling excess. Once again, it felt nice to hear the stylistics of a previously thriving music era. Both the acoustic and heavy guitars accentuate Hetherington’s delivery and the sparse lead melodies during the bridge work to its benefit in the same way. The last highlight of the album was its final track, Ubuntu. Its riffs are considerably darker, matching in tone with Hetherington’s detached, flange-laden vocals. Not until after the chorus is the true extent of his soul unleashed. Without spoiling much, I can safely say that its peak of rawness deviates from anything I’ve heard on any mainstream rock record, especially by today’s standards.
Overall, Rise Up is by all means a leap toward greater things for Art of Dying. Not only does the band consider rock’s state as it is, but they are not afraid to break the confines of what it has become. The songs, though relatively condensed in song length, are a sufficient showcase of artistic merit, as well of a message that showcases pertinence over pretension. Although Vices and Virtues remains the favorite, Rise Up may certainly climb toward that degree of recognition soon enough.
Listen to Rise Up:
Check out the mini-doc produced by Urban Street Angels on homeless youth, which features “Everything” as its accompanying soundtrack: