From the bone-chilling opening dialogue of its leadoff track to the tumultuous and shocking twist of its conclusion, The Emptiness is a haunting narrative that is without a doubt one of the finest concept albums in the history of the post-hardcore genre. Alesana is at the height of their dramatic storytelling, relying less on the allusions and mythological references of the past and employing a more direct approach as the weave their fictional tale of tragedy, betrayal, insanity and murder. Shawn Mike’s silky smooth vocals are matched only by his superb songwriting, evoking both emotion and fright from the listener with his main character’s ardent declarations of love and downright creepy realizations, all conveyed through the lyricism of the artist as he searches for his sanity and his love Annabel, a name inspired by the work of Edgar Allan Poe. Meanwhile, Dennis Lee’s screamed vocals and bassist Shane Crump’s guttural growls add balance and a touch of desperation and urgency, all without dominating the proceedings as they easily could. This give-and-take between the three vocalists allows the truly brilliant composition and breakdowns to shine through. After two mediocre albums, Alesana shows a genuine artistic touch not often found in the post-hardcore genre with The Emptiness.
The troubling promises of poisoned thoughts and tormented dreams permeates through the opening lines of “Curse Of The Virgin Canvas,” a dynamic start to the haunting The Emptiness. As the artist mourns the loss of his beloved Annabel, Patrick Thompson and Jake Campbell provide stimulating electric guitar riffs that bounce off each other much like the screams, growls and coos of the three vocalists. Tying everything together are the animated drums of Jeremy Bryan and the use of strings to enhance the drama, making this leadoff track instantly better than anything Alesana had ever composed.
Balancing the themes of murder, insanity and lost love isn’t easy, just as harmonizing melody with breakdowns and post-hardcore screams is a delicate procedure. But Alesana makes it look easy with their best track, “A Lunatic’s Lament,” crafting a simultaneously moving and cryptic tale as the listener comes to pity the artist’s increasingly apparent descent into madness set to blazing riffs, strings and epic breakdowns. As a standalone track, Mike’s romantic requests might come off as affectionate, but his words become chilling as he sings to a dead girl, “Darling will you please take a walk with me? / We can count the stars and disappear / I wish you could see you’re the only girl I’ve ever dreamed of / Are you satisfied?”
“Hymn For The Shameless” experiments with the collaboration between vocalists, leaning more toward the band’s post-hardcore influences and deep growls and high-pitched shrieks provide a background for Mike’s pitch-perfect singing. The slower, epic chorus fits in perfectly with the album’s continued dependence on the themes of desperation and insanity, as Mike realizes “Sanity is slowly slipping from my hands now / I’m standing closer to the edge than I should be allowed / Oh, what little regret I have, does that make me a killer?”
From the terrifying revelations of “The Murderer” and “The Thespian” to the quiver-inducing conclusion “Annabel,” Alesana completely steps up as lyricists and composers with The Emptiness, a giant step forward from their past work. Even without the affecting narrative behind this concept album, everything from guitars to drums to vocals have improved dramatically, allowing all the elements to play off each other rather than try to seize control. But when you add in the terrific story behind the music and a surprise twist to create a tragic ending, The Emptiness elevates Alesana to new heights. Fans of A Skylit Drive, Asking Alexandria, Blessthefall, Silverstein, We Came As Romans, Motionless In White, Pierce The Veil, Hawthorne Heights and Sleeping With Sirens should appreciate this phenomenal and diverse album and listen to it over and over. At least, over and over with the lights on.
Final Score: 8/10
Rank: 2nd (four total albums)
- Curse Of The Virgin Canvas
- The Artist
- A Lunatic’s Lament
- The Murderer
- Hymn For The Shameless
- The Thespian
- Heavy Hangs The Albatross
- The Lover
- In Her Tomb By The Sounding Sea
- To Be Scared By An Owl