And So I Watch You From Afar are as exuberant as their name is ridiculous. Once upon a time, these frenzied lads’ best known song was a little ditty named “Set Guitars to Kill” which wasn’t just the first song from their first album, it also acted a mantra. But they got decidedly more—“happy” isn’t quite the word—euphoric. They indulged in “Adventure Time” fancies and smiley shout along choruses. It was math pop for lack of a better term. Sugar packed, major-key abusing, pure joyous energy delivered by smashing drums and hyperactive guitars. They were Slint obsessed with Cartoon Network rather than Nosferatu. It was best summed up by the first song on their last album, Heirs. “Run Home” was the sonic equivalent of a million pack of Crayola markers strapped to the sides of a rocket. But they’ve injected some darkness back in for their newest The Endless Shimmering, avoiding binging on shininess and producing one of their finest efforts.
Though there was plenty of muscle on their last two records, it often took a backseat to the fluttering, crazed riffage. They were dealers of rainbows and glitter covered guitars, here they’re much more likely to bring out curb stomping brute force. Opener “Three Triangles” lays out the thesis, a thumping drum beat and a screeching guitar lead are soon joined by an oceanically huge bass growl, one of the few times it feels appropriate to compare ASIWYFA to ISIS. And oh boy, the break down on this is a beast. It lives up to the title’s angular name and creates a mad math rock samba. It’s darkly danceable, a sinister edge to the raving guitar duel. You’ll probably look like a fool dancing to it, but it’s one of the most invigorating tracks of the year and a gnashing, proper opening salvo.
For those who got on ASIWYFA’s mad rollercoaster ride during the sheer sweetness era, there’s still plenty of colors here. The gleeful “Terrors of Pleasure” rides a bite-sized riff and “All I Need Is Space” even has some xylophone tossed in for a more whimsical feel. In this category, the title track comes away as the finest bear hug. Xylophone pops up again to reinforce a delicious guitar line that simply radiates warmth. The opening few minutes has the dudes creating a fireside atmosphere. You certainly wish that one campfire guitar noodler that comes along for every outdoor trip could play this well. For all their moshing tendencies, ASIWYFA could write lullabies, if they weren’t contractually obligated to end every song with a face-melting solo. And, of course, “The Endless Shimmering” does end with one of those, though it repurposes the main melody line, giving the original feeling of comfort a superhero-sized boost.
Meanwhile, their re-found brutality excels. “A Slow Unfolding of Wings” which, yes, does in fact unfurl from its thrashing start into a worship worthy solo, is magnificently heavy. No clue what god they’re praying to, but sign me up for that holy scripture.
The hyperventilating riffage of “Mullally” is right up there with their best metal-god excursions. There are at least two albums worth of guitar work just on this song, from an intricate duet, a speed demon lead and a solo that would have Yngwie tearing his luscious locks out. “Mullally” plays out an instrumental adventure of riding dragons, eating an ice cream Sunday and punching god in the face.
It’s also stunningly well-produced. The individual strums of some solos will ping across headphones, giving a tasty percussive feel to lines that once were much lighter. Or the sudden withdraws and additions of reverb and echo that make “I’ll Share a Life” crunchily dynamic. So guitarist Rory Friers’ claims that the band recorded and mixed the whole dang thing in nine days seems, to put it politely, batshit insane.
Hell, for a lesser band, “Dying Giants” would have taken nine days on its own. It carries on the ASIWYFA tradition of one seven-plus minute track and it is possibly their best since the glorious “K is for Killing Spree.” It’s got Tyrannosaurus-sized weight to it, but also a surprising amount of agility. Drummer Chris Wee brings the pain on the low end, giving a four to the floor groove that allows the spiraling guitars to Hulk smash even harder. “Dying Giants,” better than any other song, asks “How the hell do these guys not pass out after every song?” But the metal gods have smiled fondly upon ASIWYFA, blessing them (and us) with another furious, life-affirming collection of mathy madness.
October 20, 2017