Album: The Romance of Affliction
Romance—while often the inspiration for writing, the subject of writing, the result of writing—isn’t something that can inherently be taught. It isn’t something divided into Romance 101, 202 and 300-level courses with dense textbooks and dangerously out-of-touch professors drilling into the head of an unwitting and half-awake student. What it is, however, is learned—through experience, ad through the heart-rending intimacy of connection on a level deeper than sight and skin. With romance, lust morphs to love, and something fleeting takes its first stab at permanence. With this in mind, where were you when you first experienced (or utilized) the conniving, callous grasp of romance? For most, I’d bet it’s the same time for most other life-changing experiences:
Maybe I’m projecting, but that’s absolutely the first time I ever felt romance (or romantic, for that matter). Fitting for the review at hand, high school was the first time I was exposed to Cowboy Bebop (SeeYouSpaceCowboy’s namesake), and it was where I dove headlong into the chaotic, unruly, sassy, oddly fashionable world of mathy, spastic metalcore (or is it spazzy, metallic mathcore?) Here, on The Romance of Affliction, SeeYouSpaceCowboy do what bands have been trying to do since the resurgence of more “traditional” metalcore in the mid 2010s—they take your ass right back to high school and make damn sure class is in session. With their 2021 full length record, SeeYouSpaceCowboy are emotional, unpredictable, raunchy and melodic all in one. Boundlessly sassy, laden with attitude and frantic enough to spike a fever, The Romance of Affliction is a shoe-in contender for 2021’s album of the year, not only for the enthralling nostalgia factor, but for the compelling way in which this crushing, creative band manage to blend contemporary and traditional elements from genres long overlooked by the masses into an easily-enjoyed release that manages to be gutwrenching and impactful without taking itself too seriously.
The Romance of Affliction is a release that expertly balances the heavy and catchy components of heavy music—this is as true of the vocals throughout songs like “Misinterpreting Constellations” as it is of the gutwrenching aggression abundant on “Anything to Take Me Anywhere But Here.” Each song strikes a careful balance between frantic fretwork and half-yelled, half-sang, all-sass vocal hooks, giving the listener a collection of songs that flow dynamically but brilliantly avoid monotony. In fact, despite the focus on infusing blistering gutturals with sing-song choruses that strays dangerously close to cliché, the vocal element throughout The Romance of Affliction just might be the single most diverse aspect of the release. Where your average SeeYouSpaceCowboy track does a stellar job of oscillating between high screeches and low, burly bellows, the singing (although I’d hesitate to go so far as to call them “clean vocals,” for various reasons) takes on a different candor and spirit, infusing the songs with a wholly nostalgic, emotional whimsy. Even more, the features sprinkled throughout the release’s 40 minute run time are as dynamic as the entirety of the release is. Whether it’s Unity TX’s frontman on “Sharpen What You Can” or the infamous (maybe renowned?) Aaron Gillespie on “Intersecting Storylines to the Same Tragedy,” each feature brings something unique to its respective track, adding yet another layer to the veritable sonic onion that is The Romance of Affliction.
That same onion takes on a multitude of additional easily-digestible layers when it comes to the consideration of SeeYouSpaceCowboy’s intense instrumentation. Where the band began as a grind-tinted mathcore outfit, they’ve grown into something…well, still mathy, but harder to categorize. Borrowing aspects of post-hardcore, metalcore, mathcore and the weird, intangible off-shoot of early 2000s post-hardcore colloquially termed “sass” (I’m aware I’ll likely hit the double digits in the use of that word in this piece), The Romance of Affliction is a musically complicated series of tracks. Where “Life as a Soap Opera, 26 Years Running” is a moody, emotional, mosh-a-holic masterpiece, segments of “The End to a Brief Moment of Lasting Intimacy” and “Ouroboros As An Overused Metaphor” are poppy and catchy—only to be blown to smithereens by breakdowns infused with noises that don’t sound like they should be able to come from guitars. Each song—barring the interludes—features some kind of section where the listener’s neck is bound to come tediously close to snapping, be it from shock or sheer intensity. The percussion throughout the front half of the release is blistering and technical—just as the fretwork throughout the latter half feels like a repeated lesson in blunt force trauma, steamrolling the listener. These moments come in sharp contrast to more atmospheric segments in “Losing Sight of the Exit…” and portions of “The Peace in Disillusion” and “Anything to Take Me Anywhere But Here.” SeeYouSpaceCowboy’s latest effort is a true chimera in the greatest way imaginable.
I’ll openly admit that I spent (and still spend) more time than is really necessary criticizing bands abusing the panic chord and mediocre, tinny production style in an effort to cash in on nostalgia. Where it might be easy to try and lump SeeYouSpaceCowboy’s The Romance of Affliction into that category, it ultimately won’t fit. The Romance of Affliction uses nostalgia to hammer home a crushing, creative and cunning combination of genres while telling a story driven by addiction, love, loss and turmoil. On a surface level, anyone who spent their middle and high school days (or wherever you were between 2002-2010) loading Limewire’d records onto a basic ass iPod mini (or a Zune, I don’t judge) will find something to love about SeeYouSpaceCowboy. On a deeper level, the nostalgic throes of abandon are just the start; the Romance of Affliction is a heavy release with a poppy, fashionable dynamism to it that manages to hit hard but keep the listener engaged enough to roll with the more melodic undertones. It is a record that easily ensnares the ear but packs enough substance to ensure those listening remain attached by their own accord. In short, The Romance of Affliction is a colossal achievement and the magnum opus by this young band—and what I’d consider to be 2021’s last true Album of the Year contender.
For Fans Of: Duck Duck Goose, Grace Gale, Vatican, Dying Wish, Knocked Loose, Drop Dead, Gorgeous, WristMeetRazor
By: Connor Welsh