With the average hardcore being quite metal these days, it's sometimes a nuisance to sift through the endless sea of bands and find those that can actually play metal from a technical and musical standpoint. That's why A Life Once Lost's (ALOL) debut full-length, "Open your mouth for the speechless..." (Loudnet Records, 2000), was quite refreshing. The band was able to write and perform its own brand of metalcore, and actually play metal when it wanted to. With a somewhat updated line-up, ALOL has upped the ante with its latest CDEP, "The Fourth Plague: Flies", by blending melodic metal in the vein of In Flames and At The Gates, with the mosh of Unearth, and perhaps the dissonance of Deadguy.
With only five songs to the CDEP, ALOL wastes no time with its opening track, "Chileab." The opening guitar licks sound as if The Dillinger Escape Plan had a hand in the writing process, as the dual guitar attack moves up and down the fret board with impressive speed. There are plenty of driving guitar lines (a lot of single-note, European style metal), harmonization, and mosh riffs to please both metal and hardcore fans here.
"Our Second Home" begins in a similar fashion to the first track, with more harmonization, blast beats from the double-bass, and more mosh-friendly riffs (take note pitters). Track three and four ("The Dead Sea" and "Prepare Yourself For What Is About To Come") continue to exhibit the aforementioned characteristics. The closing song on the CDEP, "The Tide," includes a melodic, acoustic interlude in the middle of the track, similar to those found in Shadows Fall.
ALOL should definitely impress listeners with its quick and chaotic, technical brand of metalcore, but there are also some drawbacks that should be noted. Because of the music's frantic pace and style, the song's parts don't always gel together. That's not to say they're sloppy and falling apart, but there is room for tightening the unit together musically. Further, there are some points where ALOL's transition from one structure to another in a song may feel a bit unnatural or forced ("Chileab"), but given the fact that a growing number of hardcore bands are attempting this to mix things up, ALOL's attempts don't seem all that bad. Lastly, the vocals throughout the album are a steady growl, with maybe some high-pitched screams thrown in. Consequently, the vocals may seem one-dimensional, but, overall, it's not a major detractor.
The recording itself is a step up from the band's first release. Gone are the echoing and faint vocals of the past, so there is more balance between voice and music. The guitars, however, still seem to stand out more and lead each track. Overall, the balance and mix of the record is adequate. In terms of visuals, Aaron Turner of Hydrahead Industries constructed the layout. A dark black mass eventually thins out to be the plague of flies against the backdrop of green (presumably leaves) and white. Meanwhile, the band name and album title is neatly written multiple times in small type that cuts across the album cover diagonally, giving it an almost tech/futuristic feel, which is quite appropriate for the band and its sound.
Bottom Line: "The Fourth Plague: Flies" is definitely a great sign of things to come from this young unit. ALOL has shown that it has the skills and tools to create challenging, technical metalcore. As the band continues to mature, expect even greater things. Fans of technical metalcore should definitely purchase this disc.