Dance Gavin Dance – Afterburner (Album Review)

Thankfully for their legion of devotees, Dance Gavin Dance has never been particularly good at conforming. So, prepare yourselves, because the cross-genre mayhem travels even further in Afterburner, which arrives on Friday, April 24th, 2020 via Rise Records.

Formed in 2005 and defying genre standards ever since, California’s Dance Gavin Dance take what they love and put it to record, be it Progressive Hardcore, Post-Hardcore Math Rock, Prog Metal, Jam Rock, or simply Rock-n-Roll. With eight studio albums to their credit, including 2007’s Downtown Battle Mountain, 2013’s Acceptance Speech, 2016’s Mothership and 2018’s Artificial Selection, the quintet has consistently proven their technical proficiency, mesmerizing fluidity, and ability to write brutally catchy songs with a warped sense of humor. Stints performing alongside the likes of A Day To Remember, Underoath, and more, have only served to solidify the band’s name and show more of the world their walloping live energy.

Certainly by the time you reach your ninth studio LP and fifteenth year as a band, you know a little something about how to make music. This is no different for the gentlemen in Dance Gavin Dance—“Clean” Vocalist Tilian Pearson, “Unclean” Vocalist Jon Mess, Guitarist Will Swan, Bassist Tim Feerick, and Drummer/Percussionist Matt Mingus—who allow their minds to wander even further into the artistic oubliette on their latest, Afterburner. Produced by longtime collaborator Kris Crummett (Sleeping With Sirens, Issues), along with the exceptional Drew Fulk (Lil Wayne, Motionless In White), the 13-track collection sees the quintet incorporating new elements, including Latin and Hip-Hop influences, all while maintaining their ability to be, at all times, brutal, infectious, and unpredictable.

Afterburner begins with a flourish of guitar as the band journey into the soaring “Prisoner,” featuring Guitarist Sergio Medina (of Eidola, Sianvar, and more). Here, Mess’ harsh vocals contrast perfectly with Pearson’s piercing sweetness as their bandmates offer up a technical proficiency intended to awe and inspire listeners. In this, the track does not fall too far outside the band’s standard compositions, thus starting the album off with a sense of familiarity.

Next, Swan’s guitar races into the ironically upbeat bop of “Lyrics Lie,” a witty commentary on insta-fame, YouTube “entrepreneurship,” and all that cancel culture crap. Superbly catchy with some delicious Hardcore moments that see the vocalists bantering comedically back and forth, this is a reminder that Dance Gavin Dance never take themselves too seriously. Following this, Mingus marches the band into the hip-shaking Latin vibes of “Calentamiento Global,” a look at some heated history that sees Mess spitting the fire of a conqueror while Pearson gets to croon enticingly in Spanish.

At this point, Feerick’s bass serves as a thick backbone for the shimmering guitar of “Three Wishes” before the band dip into “One in a Million.” Similar to its predecessor in sound, but with an underlying Pop sensibility to its infectious choruses, the latter track often vacillates between funktastic bass and those ever-present glittering guitars. Meanwhile, hiding from pain never sounded as enticing as on “Parody Catharsis,” a look at the varying external forces that we blame for our struggles and how we manage to avoid confronting the truth.

Twinkling “Strawberry’s Wake” wants you to believe it’s a ballad before the track explodes into a multi-layered, anthemic rocker that meanders through remorse for past actions and relationships as Mess violently urges us to move onward and liberate ourselves. Then, initially brutal, “Born To Fail” takes the sarcastic wit to a new level as Swan goes frantic with the tremolo.

Stomper “Parallels” creates a kind of musical mirror with a ‘70s Classic Rock feel staring into the abyss of verses crafted from sludgy ‘80s Metal. Next, “Night Sway” takes this to the umpteenth level and explodes into Black Sabbath-esque sonics before changing it up for “Say Hi.” Amid a confusion about normalcy, relationships and personal demons collide as Swan’s arpeggios flourish and Pearson dips down into the lower register of his vocal range.

Much like the band itself, equal parts scorching  and glimmering, “Nothing Shameful” is a punch in the face that features longtime friend and collaborator Andrew Wells of Eidola. In this, Dance Gavin Dance and Wells work together to pave the path for their grand finale, “Into The Sunset.” Beginning as a lulling sashay through a golden summer sunset, the track allows each member of the band to dazzle one more time as they end another impressive collection with a bizarre but effective amalgamation of scintillating guitars, brutal blast beats, and a dose of Hip-Hop thanks to guest Bilmuri.

Throughout Afterburner, there is sometimes the feel that each member of the band is operating in his own sphere, performing within his own genre; Pearson bringing the Pop sensibilities, Mess anchoring the Hardcore end, Swan offering his entrancing proficiency, Feerick dropping the funk, and Mingus holding everything together with Rock-n-Roll glue. In another band, this might amount to a sloppy sound that lacks cohesion; in Dance Gavin Dance, this amounts to a flawless melding of styles that allows each musician to bring his A-game to the fold.

To attempt to slap a simple label onto the band would be little more than a condemnation of their brilliant homage to all things musical. Unrestrained, without boundaries, and inspired to pursue a sound that is wholly their own, Dance Gavin Dance proves time and time again that their confidence as a band is merely a reflection of their brilliant competency. For this, Cryptic Rock gives the eclectic menagerie of sound that is Afterburner 5 of 5 stars.

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