Artist: The Wise Man’s Fear
Album: Castle in the Clouds
Have you ever been afraid to attend a screening of a movie based on a book you thought was perfect? Maybe it was the first Lord of the Rings film, or even something more recent like Gone Girl, or television’s Zoo or Wayward Pines. As excited as you are to have a new opportunity to enjoy something in an all new modicum of media, it can still be daunting: what if they screw it up? What if they change to plot? The actor they chose looks nothing like how I imagined protagonist X or villain Y—what the hell? These fears are well founded, as moviegoers have been both enormously let down and pleasantly surprised by live action adaptations of novels and stories.
But what about music?
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Patrick Rothfuss’ novels, The Wise Man’s Fear draw their name from the second novel in a series of fantastic, immersive books that use intriguing plot lines, comedy, romance and enrapturing character development to keep the reader hooked. As an enormous fan of the books, I found myself wary—is this just a reference, or does this Indiana-based post-hardcore band fancy themselves as veritable storytellers? For better or worse, I simply had to know—and fortunately for the listener (especially one familiar with Rothfuss’ work), The Wise Man’s Fear do not disappoint. Masterfully produced, intelligently written and packed with passion and punishment, prepare yourselves: Castle in the Clouds is captivating and crushing—the closest thing an album can get to being a “pagerturner.”
Post hardcore has come to bear a somewhat negative connotation when it comes to instrumentation. Often times, bands fail to write anything actually interesting engaging and end up with haphazard clean guitar tones that quickly segue into cookie-cutter chugga-lugga breakdowns; repeat for 40 minutes and you might end up with the next Memphis May Fire album. Fortunately, The Wise Man’s Fear borrow from their namesake to combine several elements in a tasteful and talented manner to give the listener something fun and addicting—even if parts of it do seem relatively predictable. Percussionist Paul Lierman is perfect at blending catchy, up-beat and almost poppy drum lines with devastating double kick drum breakdowns and immensely technical fills. “Prayer of the Pray” is an excellent example—beginning with a catchy, crunchy groove that flows into a peppy chorus that will get caught in the listener’s head—while “Chaotica” is an aptly named barn-burner where Lierman beats away at the listener like his drumsticks were sledgehammers. Lierman works excellently with bassist Tyler Eads to dictate the flow of each track—whether it’s the extra oomph he gives Lierman during “Chaotica” or “Secret of the Stone,” or the harmonic hum he lends to the more ambient moments of “With my Lesser Self” or “The Moonless Night.” Eads and Lierman’s careful, synchronized dynamic allows guitarists Codi Chambers and Nathan Kane to truly shine, as they are given a sturdy, energetic foundation upon which to riff, groove and chug. Chambers and Kane are the source of a great majority of The Wise Man’s Fear’s diversity throughout Castle in the Clouds. Take the hyper-heavy “Chaotica” for example: driven by downtuning that would fit with a Traitors sound check, and highlighted by Emmure-esque panic chords, this track is a mosh-inducing maelstrom. This is in marked constradiction to “The Sea at Storm” or “Castle in the Clouds,” which feature Chambers and Kane balancing heaviness with harmony. Finally, at the opposite extreme, “With My Lesser Self” and “The Moonless Night” are mostly melodic tracks, giving the listener much needed respite, and the album a full, dense dynamic.
Where The Wise Man’s Fear have constructed a beautiful, bold leather-bound epic with their instrumentation, the quality of a book boils down to the words on the page—not the material of the medium. Here, frontman Joe Dennis does Rothfuss proud with beautifully sung and screamed lyrics—aided by Eads when his syllables demand extra strength. Castle in the Clouds is not simply an introspective journey spanning the album’s eleven tracks, but it is a collection of individually strong songs that can serve as a go-to for any heavy music fan in a bind for something catchy and crushing. Dennis’ devastating screams on the album’s heavier offerings (“Chaotica” and “Wrath of a Gentle Man” especially) are grisly and grating, ranging from a guttural bellow to a grotesque, wrenching screech. However, his soaring voice on the choruses in “Secret of the Stone” and “In Reach (Out of Touch)” are brilliant contrasts to his hellacious howls. Even his soft crooning voice in “The Moonless Night” is marvelous as it builds into a full, soaring voice and gruff mid-range shout.
Dennis’ dynamic build up during “The Moonless Night” is analogous to the entirety of Castle in the Clouds. With a subtle beginning that quickly catches hold of the listener’s head, The Wise Man’s Fear have a marvelous debut album that keeps the listener hooked even if they know where it’s going—at least partially. With some twists and turns that are predictable and formulaic, but others that are breathtaking (I never saw “Chaotica” coming), this album is one that is full of surprises, with none of them being bad. The album has a remarkable amount of replay value—much akin to re-reading your favorite book and discovering new nuances with each fresh glance. Dennis’ quick screams in the album’s closing track, or the catchy nature of the drumming in “Vitality” are excellent examples of how post-hardcore isn’t quite played out yet—and if The Wise Man’s Fear are permitted to keep writing it’s future, it won’t be for sometime.
For Fans Of: Sirena, Memphis May Fire, BlessTheFall, Make Them Suffer
By: Connor Welsh