Album Review: All Else Fails - The Oracle: What Was, Is, and Could Have Been

By Mark Laffin

I have to admit that I feel somewhat conflicted with this All Else Fails album. This Alberta ensemble seems to fall somewhere between Metalcore and Screamo, with some various ambitious progressive-like affectations. The first wave of bands doing this type of thing created some pretty interesting music, with taking influence from legendary acts like Fugazi and Sunny Day Real Estate. Unfortunately, since having become a highly marketable trend in the mid 00’s bands now in this vein really just sound as if taking influence from each other. Although the very roots of this scene are rather honourable, saturation of the market has caused the genre to grow stagnant in recent years. What this band does have going for them however, is they are doing what they do unquestionably well. Well, in a paint-by-numbers sense anyway. This album demonstrates a promising formula for success in that it exploits all the necessary elements that will no doubt reach out to their niche audience. Essentially, this is a lesson in the fundamentals of emotional Metalcore. There is really nothing new being brought to the table here, but the demographic being targeted with this record is evidently being very carefully considered and this may hopefully prove to be rewarding for the band.

The Oracle: What Was, Is, and Could Have Been is the band’s second full length offering. The album showcases the band’s rhythmic competency and an obvious passion for the sound they’ve chosen. The sonic landscape is a vast array of layered and interwoven guitar melodies, chugging riffs, contrasting musical dynamics and hints of grand artistic aspirations. Lead singer/guitarist Barrett Klesko has a voice eerily similar to M. Shadows of Avenged Sevenfold, and with as much versatility and vocal dexterity. While the band’s musical proficiency is not at question here and they certainly settle into their sound to successfully create a very specific atmosphere, overall I find the sound rather contrived and mundane. There’s honestly very little that doesn’t sound like something I’ve heard oh so many times before. Having said that, there are some shining moments that do show promise for the band.

The album begins with “Overture” which immediately shows hints of grandiosity. It’s a near instrumental which begins with a dark and foreboding string section led by a cello, and then gives way to a full orchestra and an ominous sounding choir in the background. In the final minute the band comes in with some distorted guitar sounds and vocal embellishments. This is a good start. The first proper song, “The World In Flames” pretty much summarizes the band’s sound. Canorous metal guitar riffs with screamed verses and a melodious chorus with clean vocals. I do like the guitar melody lurking beneath the verses, but the song mostly comes off as generic. Things do improve somewhat with the 4th track, “Fallen” which incorporates some delicate piano creeping into the violent, discordant mix. “Monster Eats The Pilot” (which I personally hope is a Lost reference) features some rather intriguing guitar interplay, an engaging groove and an effective orchestral track coming in on the final minute of the song. Interestingly enough, there’s a cover of Alice In Chains’ “Sludge Factory” that appears mid-album, which is executed well enough but feels like an awkward interruption in the flow.

Despite the mostly formulaic soundscape, there are 2 main facets of this record that I do enjoy. One is the prominent classical element that is fused with many of the songs. The other is the progressive tendencies that almost serve to create a somewhat conceptual layer to the work. The track that best exemplifies both of these components is “The Oracle”. This is a harmonious piece centered on a piano and a string section, adorned with some atmospheric synth and in lieu of vocals, uses a sound bite from Ronald Reagan’s famous “Time For Choosing” speech. Perhaps a companion piece to this would be the song “Obsidian Walls” which features the band at full force, but is highlighted by an interlude which is a sound bite from environmental activist Severn Suzuki’s famous Earth Summit address. This is actually my favourite part of the record. I have a hard time placing the context of these sound bites into the lyrical theme of the album, however they are both somehow sonically effective.

My general impression of this effort is not overwhelmingly pleasing. Most of this listening experience offers sounds already done to death by a myriad of other bands. The band’s overall sonic palette offers nothing new to the genre, and sounds like they’re trying to disappear into an invisible gap between other bands like Atreyu and Killswitch Engage. Klesko’s dynamic singing style although very capable, sounds much too familiar and the lyrics are positively text book. This is not bad music by any means, it’s just that despite its few saving graces it severely lacks in originality and edge. The music is very decisive, calculated and mechanical. Meaning, they sound as if they’ve unanimously chosen to play their own brand of an already tried and true formula to reach a particular audience. Although they play this brand of music well, it’s just not exceptionally creative all of the time. It does feel like the band had some artistic ambition invested in this project, and seems they were aiming for a heavily thematic structure. While these aspirations are admirable, there’s no real concept shining through apart from a scattered series of dark natured themes. It’s not a total loss. Their musicianship is undeniably accomplished and they demonstrate that they can certainly write a song. I would just like to see them further explore some of these progressive impulses and find their own individuality as a band to offer something a bit more unique and inspired.


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