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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
At the forefront of melodic hardcore is Touché Amoré, and their fourth record is just on the horizon. Stage Four is the follow up to 2013's Is Survived By, and it's bound to be something special - it's a very personal record for vocalist Jeremy Bolm, who lost his mother to cancer in 2014. This album will be full of those emotions he experienced.
The band has shared the song 'Skyscrapers' from the record. The song is an ode to New York City, in all of the most heartbreaking of ways. It's not a very intense track as far as its sonic soundscape goes; it begins with rolling drums and reverberating clean guitars. Jeremy Bolm and guest vocalist Julien Baker sing somberly as moments of guitar punch through. Bolm is the real focus of the song, despite the female guest. While the harmony is interesting, it's more captivating to hear the longing in Bolm's voice as he signs "To live there, under the lights" is its own gift.
The song builds up to a big climax at the end, harmonies of vocals and screams ultimately taking it out with a bigger instrumental complete with crash cymbals and tremolo guitar sounding high in the background. Bolm's clean vocals make this track sound like a heavy Ariel Pink song. It's a bit odd, but it's not the vocals that make the track. The meaning sends it a lot further.
The music video makes the song even more real and somber. It pictures Bolm traveling through New York pushing around an empty wheelchair, seeing sights in black and white. As the song climaxes, all of the color starts to surround the scenes, as if it's an acceptance. I like to think the empty wheelchair is a symbol for his mother, and that makes this song being sung from her perspective - Julien Baker's female vocals are his mother singing the message too. Perhaps she always had dreams of living in the big city and living under all of the grand lights, but passed away before that came true. Bolm walking through the city with the empty wheelchair is his way of finally taking her there. The way the color changes from the beginning to the end shows how this sad activity of pretending his mother is there with him becomes more of a comforting thing, as if he could do one more thing for his mother to make her happy.
Touché Amoré knows how to play with your emotions. This song is one of the few cases where I can say that the music video makes the song even better. As for the track itself, I'm not the biggest fan but I like the message and the story is sweet. Stage Four seems to be building up to be a very emotional record; anger, sadness, regret... we can't say for certain, but the prospect of it is exciting. Nothing drives music better than emotion, and the loss of Jeremy Bolm's mother is bound to be channeled through his music. It's going to be a big record.
Rating: 78 / 100
Music Video Rating: 90 / 100