Escaping cliches can be difficult. In 2005 the instrumental metal band has become its own cliche, along with their album's reviews. Being referred to as a Neurosis-rip off or an Isis-wannabe has become a formality for these bands, and sometimes it isn't even the bands fault. Reviewers are often guilty of only looking towards the genre defining or benchmark bands/albums as reference points. So how does Omaha's Back When fit into the clich'? It's true; Isis and Neurosis' influence run through parts of We Sang as Ghosts. But upon further listening you begin to break through the surface and get to the core of the album. Drawing from wide influences such as 90 Day Men, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Electric Light Orchestra, and Hum - to no surprise, as Matt Talbott of Hum recorded the album - Back When weave in and out of mammoth guitar riffs and atmospheric overlays so seamlessly making We Sang As Ghosts an epic and unique album.
Featuring a former member of prolific Midwest hardcore/sludge band Exam and sharing members of Omaha hardcore bands such as Robots Don't Cry, Caught in the Fall and Eyes of Verotika, it is no surprise that Back When's first two releases fall farther towards the hardcore side of the fence. Their debut EP Celebration of Alceste, released on Imagine It Records in 2003, featured fast crushing riffs at breakneck speeds. While earlier this year they released the Swords Against the Father 7' on Init Records, which straddled the line between hardcore and sludge with its churning Sabbath-esque riffs. It is no surprise that We Sang as Ghosts is an extension and progression of Back When's early material.
The seven-song, sprawling fifty-five minute album opens with mountainous guitar riffs complemented by crushing dual vocals from guitarists Jonathan Tvrdik, and Joe Mickeliunas. On the song 'Essays in the Moonlight III: Permanent Low,' the rhythm section of Justin Thompson and Aaron Broveak shine by providing the thundering bass lines and huge drumming that that hold the album together. 'Ghosts,' the most haunting track on the release plays like the soundtrack to a post apocalyptic horror film with spacey guitar lines and keyboardist Jeff Burgher's atmospheric overlays. Combining this with the wall-of-sound guitar movement, the result is a haunting and beautiful track.
Back When's We Sang as Ghosts might go down as one of the most overlooked records of the year or the next big album in instrumental metal, it's hard to say. The mood moves from haunting to inspiring in minutes and back again as no part lingers too long, helping the album play as a collective piece of music and not as a collection of songs. Time will tell if Back When becomes the next 'it' band in the hardcore/metal scene, or just another overlooked band with amazing talent. One thing for sure is you can only expect more to come from Omaha's best-kept secret.
8.6 / 10
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