It doesn’t take too keen a memory to recall when the underground was rocked by a relatively new animal; a post-hardcore beast gnashing a row of melodic incisors, besmirched by a heavy metal overbite. The critics called it metal-core, then screamo, then a whole host of hyphenated hyperbole until a style of song that sprung from an Iron Maiden fever dream began to homogenize, embraced a pussycat’s slippery sheen, and is now essentially a safe haven for tough kids gone soft. It’s sad but true: Screamo is a fucking joke. Metal-core is a caricature in a Mall of America comic strip. The death rattle for a once mildly exciting punk rock overture has shaken its final clangs.
Sacramento’s Consider the Thief (nee Heartshed) has been toiling within the confines of this breakdown-heavy haze. They are set to release what will no doubt be regarded as either a complete about-face from what their fans expect, a risky career move in a still-fledgling existence, a “fuck you” to what would have surely been a cakewalk into the mainstream-or most likely all three. Guitarist Sean O’Sullivan, formerly of Dance Gavin Dance, attempts to explain the chronology of events leading to this spring’s release of Signs and Wonders.
“All of us paid our dues playing in heavier bands for years before this,” explains O’Sullivan. “After the release of Soldiers and Saints [the band’s self-released debut EP] we decided we wanted to take a leap of faith and write songs that didn’t rely on what had become a crutch for us: screaming and busy guitar/drum work.”
Soldiers… found the band contented in a sound equal-parts Vheissu-era Thrice and a just-crowning Thursday, emerging behind a wall of punishing metal riffs and algebraic time signatures, capped by guttural yelps and pin-prick melodies. It was an underground release that garnered the praises of everyone from Punknews.org to mega-hip glossy rag Alternative Press, who placed the group among their “100 Bands You Need To Know” in 2009.
While still unsigned, the band (rounded out by pianist/vocalist/guitarist Dryw Owens, vocalist/guitarist Jordan Wells, bassist Zack Walkingstick and drummer Lucas Allen) seemed to realize that their artistic bents remained malleable, and with a creeping disdain for the impending creative flat line of their young catalog, they turned a musical corner.
The process was a trying one for O’Sullivan.
“Writing this record was pretty intense for all of us,” says O’Sullivan. “The first song we wrote after the EP was the softest any of us had been a part of. There was that learning curve with the new material, how to go about writing more dynamic and emotive songs. I suffered writer’s block at one point and during that period experienced a lot of growth and was humbled by watching the other guys write.”
The result of such growth has ushered in an atmospheric wash of layered songwriting more akin to the vibrancy of UK sonic-rock supergroups like Radiohead, with a marked emphasis on lyrical themes. These themes rear most poignantly with takes on the Christian parables “The Good Samaritan” and “The Prodigal Son.” But O’Sullivan is quick to note the band’s neutral stance with regard to the presumed theological imprints on their music.
“It wasn’t really a purposeful thing at first,” explains O’Sullivan. “I personally feel it’s important for an album to have a well-rounded lyrical theme. My biggest worry with the lyrics on this record is that people would think that we’re some sort of bible-thumping Christian band. These stories Dryw sings about [are] just as powerful to an Atheist as they are a Wiccan or a Catholic. We’re not trying to convert anyone with a sing-song Jesus chorus; we just want to convey the power and relevance these stories still have.”
The fear of alienation, while something that most artists might invoke as tantamount, took a back seat for Consider the Thief in the process of writing their new material.
“We had a good laugh as we were writing these songs,” says O’Sullivan. “We knew that the kids who love our old material would most likely not gel that well with the new stuff. The vast majority of people have had nothing but good things to say.”
With their initial successes, O’Sullivan points out the band’s gratefulness for exposure on a national level while still remaining unsigned. Signs and Wonders will be self-released by the band, and should be available exclusively on iTunes by May, with a CD release show still in the planning stages. In the meantime, Consider the Thief is gearing up for its future.
“We’ve been so focused on writing and recording that we hadn’t really thought too far into the future, but we are now,” says O’Sullivan. “The reality is sinking in that we have to move on this—that this is something really important to us and, hopefully, to others, is really motivating us to spread it around.”
Breaking a mold that in previous bands they most assuredly helped create is bound to receive attention, good or bad. For the record, O’Sullivan summed it up as succinctly as possible.
“What bugs me most about the current music scene is the overwhelming fear of failure bands seem to have when it comes to doing their own thing,” he explains. “Bands are giving up because they can’t survive and we’re seeing good, hardworking bands break up or lose members to horrendously awful Auto-Tuned crunk groups, and there’s no desire to attempt something that might not pan out. I’m not saying we have that ideology of creativity cornered, but I can for sure say that the record we just wrote is as honest a record that I’ve ever been a part of, and I’m 100 percent proud of it and of the guys I work with. Hopefully people take notice of the bands that are working hard and support them so that they succeed…otherwise we’ll see screamo-crunk-whatever in the top 40!”