LabelSeason of Mist
Tracklist1. Something Awful
2. Gnawing Lisp
3. Madness Is God
4. Miracle Worker
5. Empty Form
6. I Am
7. The Blues
8. People Stare
9. I See, I Hear
10. I Sit Ill
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A Life Once Lost are a band who have suffered from a self-induced identity crisis since they broke onto the scene in the early 2000s. They caught on to Meshuggah’s experimental tones and polyrhythmic interplay long before it was cool, and after they left an imitable impression on the metal world with 2003’s A Great Artist, the Philly-native rockers got in touch with their southern roots and released 2 monster albums, one of them being 2007’s Iron Gag, which earned the band much acclaim and even garnered honorable Pantera and Lamb of God comparisons.
In the five years since Iron Gag was released, ALOL have done a few tours/shows here and there, but they’ve largely been off the radar. Then last year, founding members Robert Carpenter (guitar) and Justin Graves (drums) announced their departure from the band, forcing the remaining founding members Robert Meadows (vocals) and Doug Sabolick (guitar) to start over from scratch. Needless to say, many metalheads, myself included, have been chomping at the bit for some new ALOL material to sink their teeth into, and they have finally delivered in the form of Ecstatic Trance. A fair warning though: those expecting a continuation of the southern flair they displayed on their last two albums may be caught off guard, as ALOL have reinvented themselves once again on Ecstatic Trance.
ALOL’s signature groove is prevalent throughout the duration of Ecstatic Trance, but perhaps where this new outing differs most is in its scope. This latest incarnation of ALOL has more in common with the progressive tendencies of King Crimson and Tool than they do the southern groove of past releases; Sabolick has even admitted to “borrowing” some licks from King Crimson’s Discipline and turning them into riffs on this album. In this sense, the songs found on Ecstatic Trance are meant to, as the title suggests, thrust the listener into a trance-like state for all 34 minutes of its duration, and at this, they succeed.
Sabolick has greatly simplified his guitar playing, often utilizing a single melodic riff within a song and riding it out all the way through, whilst sprinkling in a fuzzy guitar solo here and there to add to the overall mystique of the album. There are some who may be put off by this comparatively more minimalist approach, but these are calculated and colorful riffs which seep their way into your brain and have a hard time ever escaping. The angular riffs of “Empty Form” and “The Blues” are great examples of this, as is the doomy 46 second interlude, “I Am.” Newcomer Jordan Crouse compliments this new found sense of minimalism with his drumming by utilizing a similar approach, relying solely on repeating, polyrhythmic drum patterns to keep each of the songs slithering along at a mid-tempo pace.
The crunchy aggression of “Something Awful” and “Miracle Worker” are the closest Ecstatic Trance comes to replicating the ALOL days of old, with the latter resembling something that might be found on A Great Artist. Furthermore, Meadows‘ screams are as psychotic as ever, even if they are a little more subdued at times. Even so, this aggression is still a far cry from what ALOL used to be. While listening to Ecstatic Trance, I found myself wanting to hear the raw aggression and swagger that both Hunter and Iron Gag exemplified, but it never came. This is both the greatest strength and greatest fault of Ecstatic Trance. On the one hand, this is obviously a natural evolution for the band, and the material found on Ecstatic Trance is much more challenging and reflective than anything ALOL have released before. On the other hand, Ecstatic Trance is a much different creature than the raging animals that Hunter and Iron Gag were, and ultimately, it’s just not quite up to par with what those albums achieved. However, despite this, Ecstatic Trance is most certainly worth a listen, as it is one of the most entrancing releases you’ll hear all year.