Hearing Aide: The Primrose Path’s “A History in 9 Parts”
The Primrose Path came out with a new single, “Eve” last year, and it would have been easy to dismiss the Albany metalcore outfit as just another one of those ‘breakdown’ bands that generically emerged somewhere around 2009. But their debut album, A History in 9 Parts, proves that the band is so much more than that.
Anyone who enjoys the rhythmic notions of bands like The Plot in You or Whitechapel and the dissident chaos of August Burns Red, will find A History in 9 Parts worth a listen at least. Their music is heavily rhythmic, and less melodic. The album opens up with “Dred Raggin’,” with the vocals of Grant McMahon opening up the song. His lyrics are easily understood and the sound of his voice conveys aggression without being unintelligible.
This track leads into the assertive song “Eve” which was already a well known live number before the album was ever released. Somewhere around the middle of the song, the listener is taken through a progressive – metal twist. “Are you living happily ever after?” McMahon yells over odd – timed guitar grooves. The following song, “Love” seems to carry the same lyrical and musical motifs. “I’m sorry, I’ll never do this again/I’m trying to figure out why she said what she said/I love you so much, but you’re responsible for the death of all my friends”
This leads a listener to realize a key element of this album: emotion. This element is perfectly encapsulated by the “weaving” guitar patterns set up by bandmates Justin Tatar and Joey Grant, who understand how to blur the lines between Dream Theater’s brand of progressive metal and Volumes’ style of playing cluster chords atop atonal rhythm. Simply put, the melodic parts of this album are used effectively to create specific atmospheres – anger, sadness, wrath, and so fourth.
This is what makes the ‘acoustic’ section – featuring ‘clean’ instruments and a piano – played by McMahon – so effective. “My heart belongs to you,” he says. The lyrics are perfectly placed, for the most part, because they ride along with the mood of the music.
A History in 9 Parts is not perfect on its own, several issues come up after a few listens. For one thing, placement of “clean vocals” could have been more prominent – but that is simply a matter of subjectivity, however, it is practically indisputable that their production, on the part of the band or the studio – was basically half – hearted. Although the argument over whether pitch correction software is musically “ethical” will go on for years, the band can perform these parts live, so they should not be afraid to enhance the recording of clean vocals in a minimal way that is non – intrusive to their songwriting – much like a bodybuilder may chose to use supplements, but not steroids.
Then again, this idea only comes across on the “metal” songs. One stand alone moment in the album is “The Dwellers,” a soft ballad played on acoustic guitars. Its vocal and musical structure will appeal to fans of bands like Bayside or even Times of Grace, and captures the spirit of a softer side of the sound.
Other flaws included the mix itself, as in some songs, one part found itself in competition with another part, or an incoming lead was clearly given too much volume. Drums and bass became victim to this dilemma, especially.
If there is one thing that sticks out before anything else, it’s the rhythmic aspects on this piece of work — this is not to say the rhythm section, but instead, the fact that the album is complex in terms of definitive beat. Aaron Uline provides a backing to this album that could be seen as an experimental style of musicianship. Clearly, the man is not afraid to lay down his beats in unconventional ways. He makes regular use of toms and auxiliary percussion which add to the overall chaotic feel of the music. However, the drums may sound triggered and nearly “too perfect.” Whether this was planned or not, the recording would have been better with more dynamics, especially from the cymbals, which sound programmed. Anyone who is a fan of the Converge – style of “real drum sounds” may find this dilemma particularly unsettling, but not unforgivable.
On the other hand, Tommy Miller, the bass player, specializes in mirroring the crazed beats of the drums. For songs like “Eve” his tone comes through as that of a funk bassist, leaving a strange, but interesting taste on each note.
This is the problem: because of the mixing, it could be argued that except a few tracks, neither Miller nor Uline cut through the speakers enough for the audience to take large notice of small subtleties. This is the solution: listen to the album a few times. You may start to notice the differences between this and other artists if you bend an ear close enough.
Overall, this album does not sound like a debut. It sounds like a third or fourth record. Guitarist Justin Tatar commented that the album has a lot to do with the “growing up” of the members of the band. He said that the album’s lyrical themes surround the idea of speaking against “institutions that try to pull kids like us down,” meaning that the band kept the interest of their listener in mind — a particular area in which most bands fail. A History in 9 Parts starts strong and ends strong. The Primrose Path have clearly taken a long time to perfect their writing process — each members’ influence is complimentary instead of competitive. If they keep cooking up whatever chemistry is happening now, they’ll be playing amongst some of the greatest in no time at all. Make Upstate New York proud, boys!
Key Tracks: “Love”, “To Space,” “Dwellers.”