Review: "Wolves" - Story of the Year
Photo credit: Justin James Muir
Story of the Year marks a triumphant return to the alternative music scene with the release of their sixth album, “Wolves”.
For this album, Story of the Year made the decision to go fully independent. They came to PledgeMusic with the album already written and looking for what they called “[not a] donation. This is a super cool pre-order, and much more”. The band offered incentives such as private lessons, drum sticks used in recording, frontman Dan Marsala’s jacket from the Page Avenue 10th anniversary tour, and hand written lyric sheets. Support poured in: 348% worth, according to their PledgeMusic site.
The 14-song album opens with intro track, “Wolves”, which sets the eerie, cinematic vibe of the album. It starts with that creepy horror movie kind of wind blowing, the knell of a bell, a bike squeaking and wolves howling in the distance. This perfectly jives with the album art, which depicts the band on bicycles riding in a circle around a fire with lamp-like wolf eyes watching from behind trees.
Marsala spoke with Fuse about the cinematic vibe “Wolves” has:
“[Guitarist] Ryan [Philips] had the idea to make the album more cinematic. We didn’t necessarily want it to all coincide with the lyrics but we wanted a good visual to go with the record. It kind of made sense to bring that audio urgency to the beginning of the record to set the tone for the visual side. We came up with it last minute and thought it would be really cool.”
Along with the title track, there are a couple of other standouts on the record.
Track three, “Bang Bang”, is the first one. It sounds like the love child of “And The Hero Will Drown” and mega hit “Until The Day I Die”, both from 2003’s “Page Avenue”. It also achieves the feat of sounding like a natural progression from where they were in that era and into the artists they are now. The lyrics speak of how hard it is to keep going when you’re struggling and there doesn’t seem to be an end:
“It’s hard for me to keep smiling when I’m begging for a knife to carve away the thoughts of you and I. But at least I can say I’ve learned something about giving up and fighting for my life. Give me one last try and I’ll get it right. Say goodbye. Bang bang, a bullet to my head. Alive amongst the dead, one last kiss before I go…”
The rest of the lyrics are just as dark and excellent. Other highlights of the song include how well the screams, clean vocals, and every element of instrumentation work together.
Crowd funded albums are great because of the simple fact that bands can include songs like “Youth”, an epic 53 second guitar solo. While Marsala was breaking down the meaning behind the songs for Fuse, he said about “Youth”:
“It’s a solo on a record for no reason. But like I said it was a time where we can do whatever we want and it doesn’t matter if you put a minute-long guitar solo in a song. Who cares? It’s art. It’s fun and definitely sets the stage for the next song,”
Marsala is definitely right about that as “Youth” does indeed lead perfectly into the upbeat synths of “I Swear I’m Okay”, track five.
There’s a line in “I Swear I’m Okay” that goes “the saddest part is that I stopped believing”. Although this is a deceptively upbeat song, the first thing this meme-obsessed writer’s brain went to is the Some E-Cards meme that goes “I stopped believing for a little while this morning. Journey’s gonna be so mad”. All jokes aside, the rest of that line is quite sad and a depiction of how much life has changed for the band and its members: “the saddest part is that I stopped believing… in every single thing I’ve said along the way.”
It continues: “And I’m sorry. But I swear I’m okay. Those little words don’t mean a thing and I know there’s no way we’ll ever be the same. ‘Cause nothing could replace when it’s all falling down like rain…”
“I Swear I’m Okay” is honest, raw, and definitely worth a spot on your playlist.
“Miracle” is a more of the hard rock sound Story of the Year listeners have to come to know and love (and that the band has perfected over the years). What makes this track stand out, though, is that this direction still manages to be fresh, raw and powerful. From the spoken “please don’t let me go” to the pounding drum intro to the electronics to the meandering guitar, this has climbed into this writer’s favorite tracks.
Add lines like “I woke up calling out your name, but the past it hangs like a noose and for me to let you down is the last thing I ever wanted to do…” and the “I’ll pull the knife out slow ‘til I’m somebody new and then just before the blood runs down I will tell you that this is all for you…“ and this is sure to climb into listeners’ favorites as well.
“Give up My Heart” is the most interesting song on “Wolves”. The pensive, mysterious guitar tone was the first thing that stood out. The vocals and drums were the second as they perfectly round out the picture of the song. When you put that together with the power of lyrics like “Am I man enough to fall in love?” and “don’t make me give up my heart…”, you have a hit on your hands. The song, says Marsala,
“[is] about my second child. … It’s about being scared of how much you can love someone and how crazy that feeling is. Just freaking out and saying, “Oh my god, don’t make me feel this way. There’s no way I can love something this much...”
Knowing that only makes the song even better. It is still vague enough that it could be about a significant other or someone else close to you, which is a good quality for a song to have.
Before getting into thoughts on “The Eternal Battle for Mike Cronin’s Soul (To Be Alive Again)", it has to be mentioned that the title came from one of the PledgeMusic pledger's names, which this writer finds endlessly amusing.
That said, the lyrics are fantastic: “I can still remember nights when we were young/the world on fire, screaming out unknown. If this is over, I don’t wanna know. I want to feel alive again. I want to feel alive again now…”
Anyone who’s ever worked in the industry or just loves going to concerts will surely relate to this song.
It’s hard to top how full of feeling the intro guitar melody to “Goodnight, My Love” is. It’s one of those riffs that’ll be stuck in your head for days after and you won’t even mind because it’s so good. The rest of the guitar and bass work is like that as well, which will have you going back to this song again and again. The song is a heartfelt message to his wife and kids about his struggles with, according to Marsala, “going fucking insane [when] all you want to do is take care of your family…” He also shows he’s pushed himself with the vocals in the last couple of choruses.
This writer’s favorite lines are right at the beginning: “goodnight, my love. I hope that the storm in my head doesn’t wake you up/goodnight, my love, I know that there’s a million things I should have said, but the lines upon my face, they’re staring back at me/the mirror knows my name, reflections of a younger me and/I’m/hiding the things that scare me/the most. I’m/sorry I’m not myself now…” These lines are such a poetic way to put that and it’s fantastic. The frenetic ending guitar just puts a cherry on top of an already great song.
There’s not much to say about “Like Ghosts” other than musically and vocally, it captures your attention instantly and you feel like you have to know how the story the band is telling ends. Says Marsala,
“It’s a love song and an apology for being the way I am. The chorus goes, “Don’t tell me I’m not all that you need anymore.” Basically a plea to keep dealing with my bullshit. The first verse is saying I would do anything for you. The second is verse I’m sorry for the way I am and don’t let it go. It’s a different kind of love song.”
“Praying for Rain” is a seven-minute epic that chronicles Marsala’s life so far – from becoming a father to how he and the band have struggled during their hiatus—and it’s another song that’s immediately interesting. At the risk of sounding like Bill Hader’s Stefon, this song has everything: the aforementioned rain in a thunderstorm sound effect, ominous guitar, fast guitar, synths, slow, contemplative vocals, spoken word, screams, and earnest lyrics. It takes the listener on such an odyssey you won't even feel the seven minutes pass.
There were also a couple of songs on "Wolves" that were just OK in that while they’re musically well done, they don’t make you feel much of anything lyrically. Those songs were “My Home” and “Can Anybody Hear Me”.
The opposite was true of “A Part of Me” and “How Can We Go On”. While the lyrics were good, the music didn’t have the gripping quality the other songs on the album had.
“Wolves” shows that if you take away the pressure for the artist to keep up a certain image of themselves, the results will not only be masterful but also still resonate with the public. Authenticity will always be better than generic songs composed for a ‘we need to seize on this trend so hurry up and shove this album out’ thing that a lot of artists, even ones in the alternative scene, have admitted succumbing to in the past.