After a stellar debut album that took the post-hardcore genre by storm in 2009, expectations for We Came As Romans’ followup were at an unreasonable high. Unfortunately, as compelling as Understanding What We’ve Grown To Be is, it fails to meet the unrealistic standard everyone was expecting, especially since the band’s sophomore effort rarely ventures outside of the familiar territory of To Plant A Seed. And as groundbreaking as their first effort was in its unique style and combination of electronic influence, soft and hard vocals, We Came As Romans’ second entry in their discography never strays from that same formula and comes off as slightly uninspired, if only because it’s basically To Plant A Seed 2.0. However, if you’re someone who never tires of We Came As Romans’ original and intriguing style and sound, Understanding What We’ve Grown To Be is another stellar effort and actually surpasses their debut’s mark of excellence despite not taking many steps in terms of progression.
“Mis//Understanding” starts the album off on a heavy and aggressive note, quickly establishing the theme of the first half of the album: the desperation, restlessness and uncertainty of living in faith and love. Right off the bat it’s evident that heavy vocalist David Stephens is once again on the money with his screams that both convey the urgency of the songs while still giving them that heavier edge. Clean vocalist Kyle Pavone also shows off his impeccable singing skills that give We Came As Romans balance by complementing Stephens’ screams. “Cast The First Stone” continues with the theme of struggling to live with the love of humanity in mind as Pavone declares, “I’ll cast the first stone / Like I am the last one to blame / Just to shift their condemning eyes away.” Many of the songs on the first half of the album still retain the positive message of We Came As Romans, but they focus on the desperation and struggle involved with being a better person. “Cast The First Stone” shows just how epic this band can be, perfectly blending Stephens’ aggressive verses with Pavone’s smooth vocals for the dramatic chorus, making it one of the best on the album.
However, the very best the album has to offer comes at “A War Inside” is the turning point of the album in terms of its theme, as lead heavy vocalist David Stephens screams in pain and guilt about “the devil at my shoulder,” hammering home the point that up until this point, the singer has conformed to what others expect and has failed to live in love. But at this point, the lyricist realizes his fault and the epic track that follows represents the struggle in changing as the war inside rages on. Pavone’s silky smooth vocals are flawless while Stephens’ agony is made clear from his desperate screams. “A War Inside” really picks up when the string instruments kick in, adding to the track’s epic and tragic nature while slightly breaking to mold to do something different. Meanwhile, “Views That Never Cease, To Keep Me From Myself” is the prime example of how this album is a successor to To Plant A Seed. The majority of Understanding What We’ve Grown To Be continues to use many of the same themes from the debut, but this track is a direct sequel to the phenomenal “Roads That Never End And Views That Never Cease,” made clear by Stephens’ strenuous proclamation at the beginning of the song, after a quiet piano intro gives way to a faint whirring guitar: “I am so far away.” Once again, Pavone dominates the chorus with high-pitched vocals delivered perfectly to convey the drama, while the heavy drumming and blazing guitar riffs add to its heavy nature.
Understanding What We’ve Grown To Be is a fine entry in We Came As Romans’ discography and leaves no doubt that this band will be a driving force in the post-hardcore industry for years to come. With flawless clean vocals from Pavone and the intense screaming of Stephens, along with killer guitar riffs, furious drumming and the touch of electronicore that gives their music extra flair, We Came As Romans has done it again with their sophomore album. Unfortunately, meeting that same high standard came as the price of originality, since Understanding What We’ve Grown To Be amounts to little more than the spiritual successor of To Plant A Seed, rarely breaking the mold to expand into new territory. So even though this sophomore effort is, in a sense, more complete because of a little more variety and the overall increased quality of the music, it has to be docked a few points because it is little more than an improved version of To Plant A Seed. It seems somewhat unreasonable to fault a band for staying true to their sound while simultaneously improving it, but the band doesn’t show as much progression as you’d like to see on a second album (i.e., the album’s second song fades out at the end only for the very next track to do the same). These songs might not stick as well as those from their debut if only because they are so strikingly similar and lack the same firepower of tracks like “Broken Statues” and “Roads That Never End And Views That Never Cease,” even if Understanding What We’ve Grown To Be makes up for it with a more well-rounded track list. But as incredibly impressive as this sophomore album is for the majority of its duration, there has to be some slight concern that the music will all start to sound exactly alike if We Came As Romans is unable to develop their music any further.
Final Score: 9.1/10
Rank: 2nd (two total albums)
- Everything As Planned
- What I Wished I Never Had
- Cast The First Stone
- The Way That We Have Been
- A War Inside
- Stay Inspired
- Just Keep Breathing
- Views That Never Cease, To Keep Me From Myself
- What My Heart Held
- I Can’t Make Your Decisions For You
- Understanding What We’ve Grown To Be