Release Date: August 19, 2011
In a genre of music that enjoys pigeonholing, sub-genres and labels, whether it be thrash, death, or the many “cores” that are out there, Canadian metal outfit, All Else Fails, succeeds at paving its own way and leaving the music open for individual interpretation. The quartet is set to release its third studio album, The Oracle: What Was, Is, and Could Have Been. This twelve song opus captures a piece of their past in refreshing manner, crushingly represents the present, and gives us a glimpse into a would-be future.
All Else Fails have garnered acclaim across Canada and around the globe. They have appeared on tour with the likes of Threat Signal, Fear Factory, and Suffocation, amongst countless other acts from their local scene. Personnel include front man and guitarist Barrett Klesko, bassist Seedy Mitchell, lead guitarist Mike Sands, and drummer Tom Wolf.
While the Edmonton, Alberta boys enjoy their long album titles, for the purposes of simplicity, I’m just going to use The Oracle from here on. The album begins with “Overture”, and as soon as I queue it up I had to make sure I didn’t accidentally grab Megadeth‘s “Symphony of Destruction”. Then, however, it segues into an orchestral interlude, a dirge that made me feel like I was listening to the soundtrack to Requiem for a Dream. That said, the introduction does not prepare the listener for the blistering that is to follow. We dive nose first into the “was” portion of The Oracle, with “The World in Flames”. This is a caustic rework of the same track found on their debut EP. In addition, the album also includes a hauntingly beautiful acoustic version of this song.
Immediately striking about All Else Fails sound are the textures layered throughout the record, helped along by the keyboards and orchestral work and the rough vs. polished vocals lines.
The other re-recorded track on the album is “Fallen”, which appeared on their Of Ashes and Accusations live DVD/CD. The added atmospheric keyboards here really flow well around Klesko and Sands’ guitar work.
All Else Fails are a socially and environmentally conscious band, and this album’s lyrics are steeped with apocalyptic symbolism. Highlighting this idea is a song that is probably my personal favorite on the album, “Obsidian Walls”. The lyrics warn of the impending apocalypse as a result of environmental neglect amongst a backdrop of chugging guitars and symphonic accents. Toward the end of the song is a sampled spoken word section that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. On the other side of the spectrum is the silly but endearing “Robots KOLTG”, or “Kind of Like the Government”. I can’t be completely sure how Lord of the Rings fits in with that idea, but the song in general provides refreshing humorous relief to the otherwise serious tone of the album.
“Rebirth” kicks off with Judas Priest-ish riff before going old school thrash, followed by an almost east Indian flavored breakdown. It all makes for one of the album’s more unique tracks. along with the quirkily titled, “Monster Eats The Pilot”, which shines with Mitchell’s deep fretwork. In fact, while all the guys are instrumentally sharp on this record, Mitchell’s bass grooves just rumble right through the mix. It’s nice to hear once in a while in a genre of guitar laden pyrotechnics, drumicidal blast beats and oft overdone vocals.
The other high point on this album is the cover. I don’t take Alice in Chains covers lightly, and the band has chosen one of my personal favorites from the later AIC catalog. With the originally seven minute plus, “Sludge Factory”, All Else Fails stay fairly faithful to the original song here while condensing it down to a little over four minutes. Klesko does an excellent job bringing back memories of the late Layne Staley with his vocals. I actually skipped over this song initially and saved it for last, and it turned out to be an extremely pleasant surprise.
The Oracle is one hell of a powerful album, packed with no end of metal elements, punk edginess and even jazz flourishes . One could make the standard obligatory comparisons to other metal records, but The Oracle defies all traditional categorization. The music is at once darkly visceral and starkly beautiful. In a world of countless “core” clones in the metal scene today, this opus stands out amongst the many. All Else Fails have realized their most compelling yet pulveringing album to date.