With the release of their excellent new album, Dark Matter, The Word Alive are poised for the biggest year of their still unfolding career. It’s something the Arizona-based act has been building up to for some time. Coming together in 2008, they have gradually honed their inimitable fusion of metalcore, post-hardcore and experimental alt-rock through intensive touring, including coveted slots on the annual Warped Tour, and a string of glowingly praised full-lengths, 2013’s Real. in particular.
The band have succeeded in attaining that all too rare balance of explosive energy and meticulous craftsmanship. Onstage, The Word Alive are whirling dervishes who transform audiences into frenzied, sweaty hordes, while in the studio they consistently employ the kind of finesse and attention to detail needed to make fully fleshed out albums that stand up to repeated listening.
Breathtaking isn’t a word commonly associated with metalcore, but The Word Alive are no ordinary metalcore act
Dark Matter is their most grandly orchestrated to date. Their harsh vocals, forceful shifts in tempo and complexly arranged guitar solos have been drawn deeper into the music’s sumptuously textured fabric. At the same time, the band’s penchant for epic, Muse-inspired anthems and swirling, electronic atmospherics have been significantly intensified.
Breathtaking isn’t a word commonly associated with metalcore, a genre more or less synonymous with brute force. But The Word Alive are no ordinary metalcore act. In addition to their thought-provoking sound, vocalist Tyler “Telle” Smith is one of the smartest lyricists in the genre. He ruminates on universal themes (heartbreak, alienation, existential struggle) with a boldly philosophical bent.
It’s a quality that carries over to band interviews. Smith recently described Dark Matter as the “result of our most in-depth writing and recording session we’ve done, and is something we consider to be our most dynamic and expansive album to date. This record completely defines and expresses who we are, and where we are going, taking the listener to the darkest and most honest places our band has dared to venture.”
The Word Alive’s latest is sure to continue Fearless Records’ hot streak. Founded by Bob Becker in 1994, the SoCal-based label has evolved from a D.I.Y. endeavor into what is, along with rival juggernaut Rise Records, one the most successful imprints in the realms of post-hardcore, metalcore and pop-punk. His success has been nothing less than astounding. When Becker, who continues to serve as president, agreed to sell the label and its highly valued back catalog to Concord Bicycle Music in the spring of 2015 the deal reportedly fetched an estimated $10 million.
Much of the imprint’s success can be attributed to Becker’s ability to balance razor-sharp pop instincts with a love for working with exploratory artists who brazenly challenge genre convention. After all, Fearless can be credited with releasing the Plain White T’s multi-platinum, pop-punk earworm “Hey There Delilah” and helping to launch the career of At The Drive-In, one of the most innovative groups of the last 25 years.
It’s a unique balance the label has been able to maintain even as its stake in the pop marketplace grows. Their wildly popular (and oftentimes lovably cheesy) Punk Goes Pop series has dramatically raised the label’s profile by becoming nothing less than a cultural phenomenon. Featuring the hottest pop-punk, metalcore and post-hardcore bands covering a wide range of current and classic hits (Sparks the Rescue’s emo take on Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Know” has to be heard to be believed), the novel compilations have given a whole new meaning to the phrase “ear candy.”
On the flipside, a string of recent releases have proven to be some of Fearless’ most daring to date. The aforementioned Dark Matter and Real are two compelling examples, so is Oceans Ate Alaska’s Lost Isles, from 2015. Metal Injection hit the nail on the head when they described the outfit’s claustrophobic metalcore as “intentionally and successfully disorienting, confusing and even sometimes disconcerting.”
More far out (if that even can be imagined) is Ice Nine Kills’ Every Trick in the Book, a thrash-inducing collection of songs based on a decidedly odd assortment of literary classics, including William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist.
It has to be noted that Dark Matter isn’t the only new album from Fearless. Also generating plenty of buzz right now is the stunningly melodic Limitless from Tonight Alive, the Australian pop-punk act featuring powerhouse vocalist Jenna McDougall. Add to that forthcoming titles from labelmates Pierce the Veil, The Summer Set and The Color Morale, it seems the label’s future is quite bright.