Dead Reflection sticks to formula, and never wakes up to soar.
You may have thought that Canadian ‘screamo’, the burgeoning subgenre of a subgenre, had exited quietly through the back of the building when Alexisonfire announced its breakup and Dallas Green had found his folk pop voice with City and Colour. Hardworking as it may be, Silverstein may have missed an opportunity to reinvent itself with a sound that was a little more grown up and a little more evolved. Fans that grew up with them would have welcomed a sound that was a little less hardcore-boy band. Yet its ninth studio album Dead Reflections isn’t much of a departure from its earlier work. One of its most notable achievements is that Shane Told’s voice doesn’t seem to have changed over the years; he sounds as youthful as ever.
Emo is all about posturing and stark contrast, teasing your audience with the relatable triteness of woe-is-me pop melody and crashing down on their unsuspecting faces with a ferocious, angry howl. “Ghost,” the first single from the album, asks you to identify with the band’s emotional plight before angrily pleading that you don’t show it any pity. As the namesake of the genre would suggest, it’s all about emoting — but coherence is not a prerequisite. In fact, it seems that the lack of it is a prerequisite.
“Aquamarine” shows the band at its strongest, with great pacing and a positive melody. There are verses which switch to monster-voice (we can’t have your parents being comfortable with it, can we?) but it quickly reverts to its roots with a plea to “take the pain away.” The ballad “Mirror Box” features simple guitar noodling and a pillow-talk vocal style as Josh Bradford unleashes guitar mayhem and Paul Koehler suddenly pounds out an oddly placed double-bass. Despite the record’s metal elements and top-notch production, a slipping, syrupy vocal pattern detracts from music that would otherwise be keeping pace with The Dillinger Escape Plan.
The album’s 12 solid tracks follow patterns so similar that it can become tedious. This should be everything you want from a hardcore or metal record — bright, savage rhythm guitar, relentless percussion pounding out the impact of every note. But repeat listens find you wishing there were more of that and less adolescent belly-aching. In an interview with Alternative Press, Shane Told explained that the album was an expression of the happiness he’s been able to find despite hard times. Still, most of the album falls just short of marginally optimistic whining.
It’s sometimes incoherent whining. On “Whiplash,” the band accuses, “Everything you say/ Hits me like a car wreck.” Car wrecks don’t usually hit you, cars do — possibly causing a wreck. But that’s splitting hairs. Silverstein uses the strategy of an injured dog that suddenly lashes out when you get too close. Dogs bark and teenagers moan, but Told isn’t a teenager anymore. If this is him being positive, someone should check in to make sure he’s ok.
You can’t surgically remove the sap from a band that has used it to sell over a million records. But album closer “Wake Up” implores you to “Wake up there’s somebody calling” and speaks of “the screams of emotionless machines.” Unfortunately, Dead Reflection sticks to formula, and never wakes up to soar.