Denver noise rockers, Abrams, went into 2020 as a trio with a plan to tour their Modern Ways album the world over. They came out of the global lockdown eighteen months later as a quartet with twenty-five new songs and enhanced skills in home recording. The song writing duo of Zach Amster (guitars/vocals) and Taylor Iversen (bass vocals) formed the band in 2013 with the intention to explore melody and dissonance. Nowadays, they create pensive rock that dwells in cloudy green and orange textures like a concoction of the 1990s’ alternative rock boom and the post-hardcore heroes that emerged in the earlier parts of the same decade. Indeed, In the Dark reminds you that post-grunge could have taken a different path if its torchbearers approached guitar music with the same poignancy as Abrams.
Seldom do you hear rock & roll these days that’s worthy of an approving nod, but the rough-around-the-edges hardcore take on the swagger of its most enduring aspects gives you something to contemplate on opener, ‘Like Hell’. The lucid vocal lines glow with a translucent melody over the top of a chest-humming guitar distortion and a hint of stoner rock sensibility. Imagine Cave In jamming with Soundgarden in the Down on the Upside era. The ambient feedback of the middle eight is almost as impressive as the bass-heavy chord strumming and four-string upstrokes that muddy the overdrive like treacle on sticky fingers. Amster and Iversen used their lockdown time wisely on ‘Death Tripper’ and ‘Better Living’, learning to perform their vocal lines like expert ghost writers on both compositions. The former has a despondent sadness underneath the day-dreaming voice harmonies and will remind you of the latest Greg Puciato album. Perhaps the latter can be described as esoteric rock with obscure chord strumming, like a shoegaze take on Dinosaur Jr but with metallic amp settings.
The strongest feature of In the Dark is its consistency. Though no songs stand out as instant classics, all of them land an immediate impact. If you want intelligent pop music defiled by loud rock guitars in the spirit of post-hardcore, then, look no further. ‘In the Clouds’ will appeal to listeners of The Jesus Lizard and Jesu, always switching between alt-rock and alt-metal to keep you on edge. ‘Body Pillow’ starts with a monstrous sludge metal riff but soon settles into the magical dream rock of the early Smashing Pumpkins albums. Abrams could make the music sparkle, but they prefer to lubricate it with the subtle harshness of noise rock and the melodic distortion of Quicksand. This is how post-grunge should have evolved if the likes of Creed and 3 Doors Down hadn’t dragged it down a Pearl Jam rabbit hole. Hum and Failure mapped out where its future lay but then disappeared at the most inopportune time.
It’s rare to encounter a modern rock album that avoids the power of down-tuned guitars, but Abrams use their lower tunings with the same spectral diversity as King’s X on ‘White Sand’. Can you hear the mystical leanings of Jane’s Addiction among the tuneful vocals and pensive mood? Chris Cornell (RIP) would love this music, not least how they execute the guitar pop of the title-track in the manner of a prog rock artist.
Only one thing preys on your mind during this album, and that’s the duration. Forty-seven minutes is a lengthy affair for this type of heavy gain rock, especially when the band subdue it with daydreams and then jolt it with punkish noise. ‘Black Tar Mountain’ merges the unashamed metal of the pre-thrash era with the abstract guitar melodies of the MTV Alternative Nation period. It would be triumphant earlier on in the track-listing, but it feels out of place as the penultimate song on the LP.
Nonetheless, the swirling guitar textures and ambiguous vocal melodies give In the Dark an immersive quality that warrant repeat listens. Though enigmatic and often introverted, it’s an experience that merits your deepest contemplations and your most vivid daydreams.
Release Date: 09/09/2022
Record Label: Small Stone Records
Standout tracks: Better Living, Fever Dreams, White Sand
Suggested Further Listening: Failure – Magnified (1994), Cave In – Antenna (2003), Quicksand – Slip (1993)