Music Reviews
Is Survived By

Touché Amoré Is Survived By

(Deathwish, Inc.) Rating - 8/10

Growing up as an adolescent in the 2000’s, the only word that was more offensive than “emo” was, of course, “screamo.” Of course, being the sheltered middle/high school student I was, I was completely unaware of what either term actually meant in a historical sense (to my younger self, My Chemical Romance practically invented emo), but pretty much anything that ended in “-mo” was a curse word, and the use of it was an instant turn-off. The whiny lyrics, over-exaggerated emotion, and try-hard edgy fashion of said “pop-emo/screamo” bands felt totally inauthentic to me, and I was much more willing to dissent from it and stick with Reign in Blood.

Had I first heard the music of LA post-hardcore band Touché Amoré during these formative years, I’d without a doubt file them under my own perceived “screamo” category without hesitation. The bare basics of the band alone would easily have fit my criteria – they’re loud, their lyrical content is incredibly revealing and emotional, and yes, there’s a lot of screaming. Even the band’s name, which obviously translates to “farewell, love,” would be enough to make me gag back in the day (I’ll admit, it still makes me cringe). But had I approached the group with an open mind, giving myself into their explosive riffs, uncompromising nakedness, and their beautiful basket case of a new album, Is Survived By, my outlook on screamo may have drastically changed for the better.

Does this mean that Touché Amoré really break any new ground in the world of emotional hardcore punk? Not really. What the LA-based band does succeed in, however, is boiling down the elements of post-hardcore and screamo to their most frighteningly direct and extreme, obliterating any pretentious or unnecessary barriers between the listener and band’s self-deprecating assault. Parting the Sea between Brightness and Me, the band’s flash bang of a sophomore LP, nailed this aesthetic to a “T,” keeping the band’s kinetic, gymnastic riffs and singer Jeremy Bolm’s self-loathing confessions hyper focused in under-2-minute tantrums. But Touché Amoré's life-affirming-yet-soul-crushing sound was far too massive – too fully grown for its own skin – to be contained in such short bursts, and the band’s latest, Is Survived By, is the group’s perfectly executed attempt at stretching their legs without losing any power.

Touché Amoré is not just a great emo or screamo band, but a great hardcore band in general, and this is mostly due to their intricate – though incredibly aggressive – musicianship. On Parting the Sea, their sound felt most closely akin to that of modern day Converge, using technical proficiency to create charred chaos. Guitarists Nick Steinhardt and Clayton Stevens’ riffs are knotty and splintered, yet distinctly melodic, while drummer Elliott Babin’s gymnastic blast beats only douse more gasoline on the blaze.

These core elements are virtually unchanged on Is Survived By, but unlike its predecessor, where the songs went by so fast you’d think each member was in a race to see who gets to the end faster, these twelve tracks aren’t afraid to take a breath, embrace open spaces, and, dare I say, even occasionally sound pretty. There are still plenty of uncompromising ragers, like the mini heart attack DNA or the climactic Steps, but most tracks aren’t as straightforwardly aggressive. On openers Just Exist and To Write Content, guitars shimmer just as often as they bludgeon, while tracks like Blue Angel and Harbor implement some of their sweetest and most poignant melodies yet while never sacrificing their bite. The band even exhibits some “non-punk” influences on Non Fiction, which introduces itself like a Modest Mouse song before gradually building into one of the group's most explosively cathartic releases. This is all supremely supported, mind you, by the album’s beautiful, robust production, bringing added grace to the album's soft spots and crushing weight to its rougher edges.

Of course, we haven’t even factored in the major deal-breaking aspect of the band for many – that, of course, being Jeremy Bolm’s vocals and lyrics. Bolm’s voice – a desperate, sawdust-spewing bark that’s unabashedly abrasive yet never unintelligible – undoubtedly carries a whiny inflection to it that can come off as grating, and his lyrics, which even at their most poignant often resemble “woe-is-me” diatribes, can be a major turn off for non-emo fans. But while his voice hasn’t changed much (it’s actually grown more pronounced), Bolm’s lyricism has grown significantly, with Is Survived By’s lyrics more concerned with finding meaningful answers through themes of mortality ("This is survived who sang your song / And that sense of purpose has made it all worth it"), resolving past mistakes ("But this is what I need to bury the years of debris / to break the circle of the cycles and stop living vicariously"), and simply growing out of self-loathing ("But I can’t say I haven’t aged. I’ve outgrown what I used to be. I won’t fake what is expected to succeed with album three"). It can still come off as melodramatic, but the album’s direct, revealing passages succeed by not just wallowing in misery, but actively taking steps to overcome it.

"I made a pledge to myself, if I was to raise my voice to be direct as I can be no matter what I may destroy." It would be easy to once again cue the violins for such an overly-weighted statement, but then I remember just how fiercely Touché Amoré has lived up to this pledge so far. Each moment on Is Survived By is a hotly tempered emotional assault that leaves no closet-bound skeleton unaccounted for an un-torched. Call it whiny; call it overdramatic; but when art like this can reach such triumphant, celebratory highs by embracing personal anguish, it’s hard not to find something to identify with and revel it. Even my cynical, emo-bashing younger self would have to agree.