REVIEW: Up In Smoke – In Medias Res (2013)


Artist: Up In Smoke

Album: In Medias Res


Unlike most things, frustration has a way of just…building up inside you. For most things, there’s an outlet—a way to de-stress and remove yourself from the situation long enough to let it—whether it is anger, fear, stubbornness—no longer cloud your judgment. However, frustration is different. It lingers like a thick, lurid haze across your mind, and the more you try to escape it and try desperately to flee, the deeper and more venomous it comes, ensnaring your mind from the inside out. This frustration—a climactic, calamitous construction of fear, anger and self-loathing—comes to the listener in the form of In Medias Res, the debut full-length release by Arkansas-based crushers Up In Smoke. Filled with devastating, soul-devouring grooves, venomous, intoxicating riffs and twists and turns that leave the listener speechless, In Medias Res is a late-year entry for 2013’s top albums list that ought not be ignored.

At first, the frustration that fuels In Medias Res could very well be mistaken for nothing but unkempt, raw anger. Dynamic, intense guitars cut crisp, clear paths through a dense thicket of bass-and-percussion heavy instrumentation. More than anything, Up In Smoke’s first impression is one of masterful musicianship. Tracks like “In Medias Res,” as well as “Event Horizon” create beautiful soundscapes of fretwork that ranges from hard-hitting and skin-splitting to emotive and passionate. The percussion follows suit, able to ebb and flow with the smooth, serene guitars, with beautiful booming bass-and-tom patterns, yet cut through the down-tempo chugging with cracking snare blasts and razor-sharp cymbals. Some tracks focus more on one aspect of the diverse instrumental dynamic than others—“Event Horizon” making an exemplary use of harmony and melody, while “NBK” stays true to its name and delivers nearly four minutes of pure punishment. Then there are tracks like “Vile,” or “You, Me and the Wall You Built” that provide a stunning balance between the two; as both are loaded with equal amounts pissed and passion.

While Up In Smoke’s instrumental delivery leaves absolutely nothing to be desired, it is far from distracting to In Medias Res’ remarkable vocal performance. Led with a dual-vocalist assault, Up In Smoke cover every vocal range imaginable throughout the remarkable journey that is In Medias Res—and they do each style perfectly. “Vile” kicks off with a nu-metal tinted attack reminiscent of heavy music heavyweights Sworn In or Barrier, but rapidly expands to cover deep, bellowed growls, shrieking high screams and whispered, aggressively spoken vocals. Each vocal style employed by Tyler Haile and Brandon Helton serves to brilliantly accentuate their lyrics. Throughout “Vile” and “NBK” when the lyrics are belligerent and bitter, the vocals serve to preserve that sensation—focusing on intelligible, yet intense screams, shouts and growls. However, “Event Horizon,” along with other tracks on In Medias Res include a cleanly-sung style that draws well-deserved attention to lyrics that focus on attempts to move towards redemption, as well as hopelessness and reclusion. No matter what theme In Medias Res tackles, Haile and Helton hold it down with a beautiful range of vocals to fit the mood.

Up In Smoke’s dynamic vocals and all-encapsulating aural soundscape together create a listening experience unlike any other in the heavy hardcore and down-tempo scene. With vocals and lyrics that range from punishing to poetic (“Vile” and “Event Horizon” especially) at the drop of a hat and instrumentation that has no problem setting the mood and keeping pace, In Medias Res is a truly all-inclusive musical experience. With moments of palpable, tangible anger and pure, unbridled passion juxtaposed perfectly, there is no lack of emotion—a problem plaguing many of the band’s peers—and no lack of intensity. To put it simply, Up In Smoke lack absolutely nothing on their release: something not many bands that play the same style can claim, especially on a debut release.

Up In Smoke have moments where they take a leaf from La Dispute’s book of poetry and passion, and moments where they’re clearly influenced by Sworn In or Villains’ pain and strife—however, In Medias Res is 100% their own creation. Original to the core, dynamic, diverse, devastating and immersive, any fan of emotional and heavy music should make it a point to get In Medias Res and feel the full brunt of frustration that has been held inside for far too long.



For Fans Of: Sworn In, Barrier, Kingmaker, Villains

By: Connor Welsh