This is a STRONG case for persevering beyond first impressions.
I hit play. I’m picking up some major Underoath vibes, touches of Northlane and even some Architects in this bands influences really early on. Sonically its aggressive and melodic, the band stay close to the formula of sing/scream choruses and big halftime grooves with the melodic layers over the top. If you follow the scene, then you’ll acclimate to this record immediately. I liked the opening tracks ‘Learning to Let Go’ and ‘Run’ enough but was bored pretty quickly.
Objectively I asked myself: ‘if it adds nothing new to the game, just more of the same and it’s not really grabbing me, is it worth my time?’ The answer is yes because so far it’s executed fairly well and I have to hear it all before making a judgement. I mean fairs fair, so I continue.
Lucky I gave it the chance.
The mix is pristine. The guitars are thick and full as ever, the cleans and pretty bits chime and shine over the top like sprinkles on top of an iced cupcake. Sickly sweet and delicious. Seriously, it sounds amazing from a production standpoint.
The drums are balanced and clear, the cymbals get a lot of room to ring, the kick has all the necessary punch and click to cut through and thump. As players go, it’s a very solid performance from all involved and delivers exactly what’s needed within the controlled and tight context of the songs. My earliest criticism is how the Bass guitar is just playing the root notes and offers little more than support to the chords. I have unreasonably high standards (because I hold myself to them), so most bass players in this melodic post-hardcore genre disappoint me. Some people just like to color inside the lines.
I didn’t really notice the instrument in the mix until the third track ‘Deeper Sleep’ which see’s guitars taking higher routes and less overwhelming ambient textures which created room for the bass to move around and fill the space. Interest spikes. There’s some really cool programmed beats in there as well as incredible drumming. It’s bloody fantastic. I was so relieved when this song came up, stepping away from the relentless attack of the first two offerings. My attention was well and truly renewed at this point.
‘Who Are We’ is a much more poppier number feeling more like a heavy Blink 182 track than the aforementioned Underoath/Architects sound. It’s another more accessible tune and definitely embraces the value of a nice hooky chorus. A nice side of the band to show. The video is also pretty funny and well shot!
‘The Entire History of You’ is a hell of a song. Back to the regular scheduled programming but damn if those double time breaks don’t get my head nodding and the chunky riffs towards the end make me rock in my chair. Great energy here, even if it was very familiar the variation between the songs so far begins to add dynamics and feels less predictable.
The red fucking herring drops at the mid way mark with ‘I Wish’. Not gonna lie, I had to check my player hadn’t skipped to random and started playing another artist. I’ll give kudos for the attempt because it 100% caught me off guard. Not gonna spoil it for you but suffice to say Stepson threw the rule book out for this one!
‘Dilemma’ might be a continuation of the studio environment experiments but it lands a BIG win. There’s sounds and idea’s at play here which id expect of a band several albums deep looking to expand and explore their sound. Curiously mature and definitely a highlight for 2021 so far. I’d argue this could be a strong airplay contender that miraculously manages to retain the heaviness the band is regarded for while appealing to more commercial idea’s. This song, maybe above all the others, has fantastic dynamics going between loud and quiet, harsh and easy bits. Album highlight. Easily.
The album follows the heavy/not heavy dialogue for the next half. Not exactly a rinse and repeat affair, but just …more. I’ll leave that for others to unpack.
It’s 11 tracks long, with a lot to like and for what it’s worth I think they’ve done a really good job of presenting a range of different shades and sides to the band. The vocals are really the star here and in every song they command attention. Despite not having lyric sheets to read long with, they do communicate a sense of sadness, anger, reflection and feeling.
I am genuinely surprised and impressed. Stepson are more versatile than initially expected. The more entertaining points are the less conventional ones and I applaud Stepson for daring to step outside the formula without turning their backs on the sound they’ve built previously. The album drops March 26th, links for all that are down below.
This one deserves attention from anyone who enjoys a little singalong with their beatdowns. Go check em out when they hit the road for the first time since the world stopped a year ago!
RIYL: Architects, Northlane, Amity Affliction, Underoath etc