I’ve known about A Past Unknown for almost four years. I recently saw them for the second time last weekend and picked up a copy of their debut full-length after chatting with the band. I had heard a few songs off the record a month or two before but had long since forgotten what they sounded like. When I saw them, it seemed like they just played everything off the CD, there was one thing about their absolutely crushing performance that bugged me a bit. Unfortunately, A Past Unknown incorporates so many breakdowns in their music that a few of the songs are at the point of reminding me of Emmure. But don’t get me wrong, some of the “breakdowns” are absolutely CRUSHING; but seriously, a breakdown should be used sparingly as a point in the music where the tension that is built up needs to be released in an explosion of fury. But it’s too much if that’s all the music is, because then it isn’t even a breakdown. I’m pretty sure that you’re now thinking that I’m just another one of those deathcore/metalcore/screamo haters, but I’m not, I just know when a band starts overusing breakdowns. So an area that needs improvement is the overall song structure; there needs to be more, something that will pull me in.
The screamed vocals have the angry sound of August Burns Red, but they’re deep enough to remind me of As I Lay Dying. So if I were to put a description on what the vocals sounded like, those are the two bands that I would mention. Although this isn’t necessary (and might not even be fitting), I would LOVE to hear some experimentation by putting in some deep exhaled growls to shake things up a bit. The singing is tranquilizing, not much else needs to be said. The singing does sound a lot different on the CD than it did live in that crappy warehouse that wasn’t made to hold metal concerts (the place where I saw them both times).
The guitars aren’t horrible at all, but they’re really simple and (what some people would call) generic. There are many interesting things that the guitarists do, but it’s mainly just ambient high-pitched notes and softer things. In other words, in the heavy distorted parts, I don’t really hear very much going on other than deep chugging and simple chord changes. But the reason why I’m not bothered by that at all is because it still sounds really cool! They still manage to keep the music engaging enough to keep me listening…but just barely. The bassist seems to be in his own little world, sort of like the bassist from Augury. He switches back and forth between just following the root note of the chords the guitars are playing and going on a completely different path that doesn’t even sound like the song, but still fits (for some reason I can’t figure out).
There are two songs that I want to talk about. The first one is Voice to the Willing, which is a great opening track because it tears apart the assumption that these guys are “just another metalcore band that uses ultra-simple breakdowns”. Once the intro builds up, you get the feel of the tempo and right when you start banging your head to the breakdown, you realize that the complexity of the tempo is actually really high. So just the fact that they came up with something interesting like that made me smile. And right after that, you’re met with that guy’s tranquilizing singing voice that should not EVER leave this band’s music. About halfway through the song is probably the most interesting and catchy breakdowns on the entire record. You’re knocked off your feet with the extremely heavy downbeats with semimelodic (but not technical) lead guitar licks that sound AMAZING. The other song I want to talk about is my favorite off the record, The Critic. This is where the best singing is; the beginning of the song has a driving bass line and frilly guitars and of course, that singing that I can’t keep my mind off of! Now there aren’t very many other breakdowns that release even half as much anger as this one does. When I mean this one, I mean what attacks you right after the beautiful introduction.
This is by no means an amazing release. BUT, this is EXACTLY what I wanted to hear out of these guys…why? Because if a band’s first album is virtually flawless, it doesn’t leave very much room for improvement (and usually doesn’t end up in improvement). So I actually couldn’t ask for any more than what these guys have given me right here, which is an imperfect, but strong album to keep me looking forward to an even stronger release. This is a very strong debut release and will always have a place in my CD collection. I would give this 14/20; not for having flaws, but for having plenty of room for improvement and growth. But that means that I’m going to have some high expectations for their sophomore follow-up.