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Hardcore for the masses

On Frail Wings of Vanity and Wax
On Frail Wings of Vanity and Wax
By Alesana

Fearless Records: 2007

This review first appeared in Turbula in April 2007.

Hardcore for the masses? Pop screamo?

East Coast fixture Alesana (Baltimore and Raleigh, N.C.) have their feet planted firmly in the hardcore / screamo world, but mix it up with enough pop hooks and gorgeous harmonies to grab the ears of those who aren't into the harder sounds. Much as bands like the Scorpions, Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne found chart success and wealth by smoothly melding heavy metal with a pop patina a quarter century ago, so Alesana's new album (a re-edited version of their independent release of the same name from last summer) attempts to bridge the worlds of screamo and Top 40.

Of course, what finally put heavy metal onto the charts was having songs like "Crazy Train," "You've Got Another Thing Comin' " and "Rock You Like a Hurricane" – all with memorable and radio-friendly melodic refrains.

To this point, Alesana seems to be still in transition from pure screamo to some sort of hybrid with crossover potential. "Third Temptation of Paris," "Early Mourning" and a re-mix version of the screamo cut "Apology" are pure pop ballads (and nice ones at that), while songs like "Tilting the Hourglass" and "Siren's Soliloquy" contain some interesting arrangements in terms of balancing the band's three-guitar hardcore attack with a pop melodicism. Although the ballads are nice, they're indistinguishable from those of hundreds of other bands, while the other two songs mentioned remain back-and-forth efforts between screamo and pop rather than integrating all the band's interests into a new whole. They come closest to finding that synthesis on "This Conversation is Over," with screamo vocals behind the smoothly harmonized lead vocal on the chorus.

Still, give lead singer Dennis Lee credit for being able to go from screamo to pop crooner, often in the same song. And give the band credit for trying to find a way to bring a musical style that lives mostly on the fringe to a wider audience. If this album isn't a complete success, it hints at some pretty interesting things yet to come from Alesana.