Californian five piece Touché Amoré return with a fourth offering, aptly named Stage Four. Having established themselves as one of the most prominent post-hardcore bands of the past decade, the group have been consistently experimenting with lengthier songs with a more progressive approach than the typical 2 minutes-and-out approach that has been pervasive within the genre.
Whilst the experimental nature of the record is commendable, ultimately it still falls short, as many of these build-up elements do little to actually improve the impact of the more typically hardcore parts of the songs. Contemporary bands like Envy have successfully utilised post-rock and progressive elements in their songs, yet Touché Amoré are creating songs like ‘Rapture’ and ‘New Halloween’ which contain large amounts of build-up (or filler, if we are being honest), serving little purpose aside from giving the listener a break between the generic post-hardcore sections which would have sounded stale had this been released ten years ago, let alone in 2016.
It’s not all doom and gloom for Touché Amoré, however; the energy of the album itself is very impressive, with the opening track ‘Flowers and You’ being the pick of the litter. The track is a high-tempo affair which manages to stay catchy enough to distract you from the angsty lyrics which sound like something you’d find scrawled on the back cover of a socially inept adolescent’s school exercise book. Vocalist Jeremy Bolm has a fairly melodic voice considering 90% of his performance is screaming, yet unfortunately the music can often sound too close to the wrong side of post-hardcore – think Bring Me the Horizon – by straying away from the more angular, awkward approach of classic bands like Cap’n Jazz. Ultimately, this act of precaution softens any impact the juvenile lyrics might have on the listener.
Additionally, the closer ‘Skyscraper’ is the most interesting track on the album. With quietly mixed screaming and female backing vocals, it serves as a somewhat generic calm closing track – but the song itself is well written and sounds like one of the later efforts of Fugazi or Heatmiser.
The album is unquestionably influenced by the post-hardcore scene of the mid ‘90s, which in itself is not a bad thing. Unfortunately, however, Touché Amoré have created a watered down version of hardcore music. With melodic guitars and lyrics too impossible to be taken seriously, the band have positioned themselves as close to 2000s Kerrang fodder as they have the pioneers of the genre from the ‘90s. Despite a few good moments, the album falls somewhat flat, with not enough experimentation to engage the ‘90s faithful and too much of it to engage the early teenage, annual Download festival attendant.