Armsbendback – The Waiting Room Review

“The Waiting Room”
Victory Records

ArmsBendBack burst onto the scene in 2002 with “Even Though I’ll Hurt You.” While there were only a handful on songs on the disc (five to be exact), they seemed to generate enough buzz to sign with Trustkill Records. Of course, it didn’t hurt that this Philadelphia quartet was also heavily touring with the likes of OneLineDrawing and A Static Lullaby.

The band isn’t nearly as grinding and hardcore as some of their label-mates (Nora or 18 Visions). But then again, Trustkill is also the home of Open Hand (a phenomenal band) and Poison the Well (which, while pretty hardcore, has it’s moments of melody and softness).

I was familiar with the band prior to this release, but hadn’t really heard any songs. I assumed the band’s sound was similar to A Static Lullaby — there’s a huge sticker on the front of the wrapped CD talking about Finch and Thrice (“If you’re a fan of these bands, check this out…”). Victory Records had done this type of marketing in the past with the likes of Taking Back Sunday and Thursday to try and get more buys. It almost saying the band can’t stand on it’s own, so we�ll reference these other well-known bands instead.

And that’s definitely not the case with Armsbendback — they CAN and WILL stand out on their own.

The band consists of Andrew Kegerise on drums, Brad Sloan on bass, vocalist Mike Coasey and guitarist Carson Slovak. Slovak and Sloan also handle backing vocals. The band’s sound is catchy and dynamic, with vocals drifting from melodic wails to angry screaming (but leaning towards the former); the tracks seem intricate and simple all at the same time. Coasey’s vocals didn’t appeal to me on first listen. The vocals seemed murky, almost waterlogged if it were possible, like there was a weird bass to it. But that was just a “first-listen” thing, and the strength of his vocals are what’s rapidly making this one of my favorites of the year.

Four of the five tracks from the first album were re-recorded for “The Waiting Room” at Big Meanie Studios in New Jersey (where Thursday has also recorded for what it’s worth). The rest are new and the whole thing was recorded in eight days, a commendable feat given nothing seems rushed or off, and the disc probably feels a little more raw (in a good way) for it.

“Hooray for hell if it’s on the way.” With those words Armsbendback opens “The Waiting Room.” The opening track “Countdown to the End of the World,” sets the tone for the album: driving guitar and bass with thundering drums and traded off vocals ranging from melodic rambling to strained screeching and screamed, hardcore punctuations.

“Primera (Last Goodbye)” is a fantastic track. The song works great as the second track: it isn’t quite intense enough to open the album, but a great lead in to the meat of the disc. The vocals are strong and Coasey’s singing really shines, especially as he draws out lyrics like “This is my last goodbye” and makes them sound so haunting.

“Trading the Silence” has some interesting back and forth vocals in it, but the music seems too monotonous. Definitely one of the disc’s weaker tracks… but that’s still saying a lot as it isn’t terrible, just not too exciting musically.

“The Arms of Automation” is one of the songs redone from the first album and is my personal favorite on the disc. The lyrics, seemingly dealing with spurned love, are great (“My arms will not take hold of you. Instead of giving up I wait.”). The guitar riffs and drumming are fast-paced but deliberate during the song, while the chorus’ music has a great catchy sound. And as the song comes to a close with Coasey singing “I’ve waited all my life for this,” there’s a sort-of sing-along scream in the background that still comes off as melodic.

The drumming shines during “Terms and Conditions.” The vocals seem pretty strained, but the bass and drumming trade off work well. This is another one of those songs that seem almost monotonous, but the double-bass pedal-work of Kegerise makes it worth while.

“Garry Gilmore’s Eyes” has a Helmet feel to it: the thick guitar start/stops with a driving, hook-laden chorus. “Radial” is more of a hardcore track, with an interesting start/stop during the verses. The chorus is more melodic and Coasey voice again shines. There’s a great, almost hypnotic guitar line played through most of the song too, just a simple back and forth chord.

“Watermark” again revisits work from “I’ll Hurt You…” The lyrics make the song come off like a love song (“I want to live inside you, just to see just what you see”), but I can’t help but feel there’s more underneath the surface. That’s the great thing about most of these songs, they’re open to interpretation. The verses are slower and melodic, with the choruses picking up energy and the vocals becoming more scratchy.

“Dystopia” (the last of the previously released tracks) is just a great, slow brewing song with a lot of energy in the choruses and haunting feedback during the verses. There’s some great drum work mid-way through the song too.

“This Could Be” seems out of place on the disc overall. It has the thick, guitar riffs during the verses, but the tempo seems off for some reason … it might be the placement of the song so close to the end of the disc. There’s some nice melodic singing during the chorus though.

“Red Ceiling” is a slower, driving track — musically the song just keeps drilling towards something, but never seems to get there. But the vocals save it: Coasey follows along, ploddingly during the verses but really opens up during the choruses … and I assume he handles some of the hardcore yelling during the bridge which sounds great. “Red Ceiling” is the perfect example of a song that starts off boring, but hooks you in by the middle, and then by the end you�re wondering why you didn’t like it to begin with.

A piano break opens up the last and longest track on the disc, “Apollo’s Collapse” (clocking in around 7 minutes). It reminds me a little of the weird, Pink Floyd sounding stuff Snapcase puts out from time to time. There’s some space effects, and Coasey sounds like he’s singing a lullaby … then right as you feel safe and relaxed the track really opens up with the whole band rocking out. Of course, the lullaby returns to calm things down again … and the cycle continues. A nice ending to a solid album.

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