Cancer is a cruel monster. It strikes at the most innocent and undeserving people, regardless of age, sex, religion, race... its only mission is to destroy. Thousands of people lose their lives to the condition daily, and even more people lose their loved ones every day as a result of it. That's what Jeremy Bolm, Touché Amoré's lead vocalist, discusses on the band's new album Stage Four.
Bolm lost his mother to cancer in 2014, during the band's cycle for their critically acclaimed third album Is Survived By. In that time, Bolm has been learning to cope with the loss of his mother, going through the stages of grief. He's channeled that flurry of emotions in Stage Four.
Touché Amoré's music isn't exactly the normal type of deep. There's meaning often hidden within the provocative lines Bolm writes. There's something different with the writing on Stage Four, though. Perhaps it's simply the fact that the album covers a topic that's much more easier to understand as a whole, but while listening to the lyrics you can really get a sense of the meaning without having to think too much. It's not to say the meanings are blatant, but rather they're written in that perfect balance of what he feels and what he wants to say. The clearest example is in lead single 'Palm Dreams', where he screams "Was it all the palm trees / Placed where they shouldn't be" in the choruses. It's a line that invokes a dreamy image of things being out of place, but goes even deeper to reference his mother's choice to move from Colorado to California.
The reason why she did that is unknown to Bolm, and that's the premise of the song: the regret of not asking these questions before it was too late. A lot of the album is about regret, or simply just confusion. Opening track 'Flowers and You' brings the album in on a light note with sweet guitars and a light hi-hat, leading into a uncharacteristically upbeat instrumental under Bolm's heavy vocals that shows struggle with the idea of how his mother stayed so faithful to God when it would be he who granted her with cancer. The idea is pondered about again in 'Displacement', this time with an edgier yet still optimistic instrumental, where Bolm screams of not being able to have faith in God like his mother did after her passing.
Other songs express personal sadness, as well. 'New Halloween' is about how her passing still seems like it happened yesterday, even though its been well over a year (at the time of writing the song) since her passing. The instrumental is oddly upbeat and happy sounding, unlike the premise. One of the hardest hitting tracks is 'Eight Seconds', which is about the immediate depression upon learning the news. The ending lines are so simple, yet so hard-hitting all the same: "Made the call and stared at my feet / She passed away about an hour ago / When you were onstage living the dream."
Outside of its phenomenal writing, Stage Four shows a new musical direction. It became evident in 'Skyscraper' - which we reviewed upon it's release (read that here) - that this album was going to be something very different from the band. You can hear it in a lot of the instrumentals, too. There's not pure darkness and heavy instrumentals on the record. There's upbeat, optimistic songs (as mentioned before) that seem to contrast the vocals in a sad way, as if they're the joys of life and the world surrounding Bolm who can't appreciate them due to his loss. Dreamy guitars and clean vocals build into a massive explosion of emotion in 'Skyscraper' as Bolm sings of his mother's dream of seeing the east coast, which unfortunately never got to happen. An added part on the album version is a voicemail from his mother - the last one he ever received from her. It's a cathartic ending to the album, taking it out on a tragic but fitting finality.
Cancer is cruel. When it takes the people who are closest to us, it's hard to cope with. It'll stay with you for a long time, if not forever. Touché Amoré channeled all of Bolm's grief and confusion in Stage Four is a beautiful way. It's not perfect - the new sound is something they need to work on - but its emotional, and a strong release of emotion for Bolm, even a necessary one. Turning pain into art can become a beautifully tragic thing.
Favorite Tracks: Eight Seconds, Skyscraper, Displacement, Palm Dreams
Least Favorite Tracks: New Halloween, Benediction
Rating: 77 / 100