There is no real crying in metalcore. The genre is limited to hard-hitting bass lines and yo-yo guitar riffs accompanied by the screams and howls of a soul so tormented. Well, that’s just what they want you to think.
Phoenix, Arizona-bred metalcore quintet Blessthefall has experienced an Awakening of sorts. The band, comprised of Beau Bokan (vocals), Jared Warth (bass/vocals), Eric Lambert (guitar), Matt Traynor (drums) and Elliott Gruenberg (guitar), has felt the pain of dealing with member departures and has weathered the storm to great success.
Awakening is the third full-length studio album (the second since Bokan and first since Gruenberg joined the band). The album is, in essence, the first for the revamped ensemble, which presents an interesting opportunity for the band to ride the wave of its previous notoriety and develop what Bokan calls “the Blessthefall sound.”
Released Oct. 4, 2011, Awakening debuted at No. 32 on the Billboard 200, selling more than 11,290 copies in its first week, charting 25 spots higher than the band’s previous record, Witness.
“We were shocked,” Bokan says of the band’s charting. “It was humbling to see that that many people still care. Kids are so cutthroat and there are new bands coming out every day. They do what’s cool, and everyone loves it… We’re trying to keep it real and not fall into certain trends. We want to stick to our metal roots.”
Bokan is intent on garnering the right credibility, and the band is putting itself out there to do the necessary legwork. He emphasizes the band’s commitment to creating quality, meaningful music, not only for appeal, but for true production value.
Michael “Elvis” Baskette, producer of Witness, worked with the band to develop the core melodies and harmonies of the tracks on Awakening. Bokan says the band wants no part of the digitally-driven AutoTune world of over-production. “Our record has got a more raw, honest feel to it,” he says. “The vocals are polished up, and it’s not something I can’t do live.”
It’s all about the live show for this quintet, of which Bokan is the heart and Warth is the soul. Warth does double duty on bass and screams. He undertook all the screaming (not just back-up) in late 2007, when founding singer Craig Mabbitt left the band (Bokan joined as the new lead singer in September 2008). During tour commitments in the band’s waiting period with a formal vocalist, Warth valiantly picked up both screaming and singing duties.
In the band’s early days, Blessthefall released a three-track EP in mid-2005, toured in support of bands including Alesana and Norma Jean across the U.S. and Canada. The band’s debut album, His Last Walk, was released in April 2007 and peaked at No. 32 on the U.S. charts. The band completed the entire 2007 Warped Tour circuit nationwide with Mabbitt. It’s evident that, from the start, this band has hustled to earn its stature.
It’s a serendipitous story, really. The band as a unit has been bullish, and continues to be, and Bokan has found a way to capitalize on his personal journey of self-awakening. Together, Blessthefall is channeling all of this into an authentic approach into a new chapter of exciting development.
Bokan is giddy about the newfound “awesome formula of writing,” which has been an organic, natural process.
“We’re going even more metal, with harmonized guitar riffs and gnarlier breakdowns,” Bokan says. “I think people are catching on more, which is a great sign.”
On “Don’t Say Goodbye,” Bokan chronicles the angst and struggle of being cast-out, chanting, “No matter what they say we're not the ones who lost our way/ We're fighting for our lives/ It's not enough to say that we were the ones who lost our way.”
“Til The Death of Me” is an earnest, urgent plea to rise above tribulation. “Don't give up on me just yet/ I know that you won't/ I'm too hard to forget/ Is this really what you want for me?”
“The Reign” is a celebration of growth and success. “All the time we spent just breaking out of this/ We made it out/ We are the ones with hearts of gold/ I'm still the kid you used to know/ And I've got a lot to say.”
On “40 Days” Bokan bares all and puts his loneliness on a lyrical platter as he chronicles time away from his fiancée, Canadian electronic musician, ‘Lights’ Valerie Poxleitner. The romantic track fuses the catchiness of a love song with the intensity of metal. “And I need you now/ Cause it's killing me/ And I wish somehow, you were here with me/ When I fall asleep, I feel you with me.”
“She came along at the perfect time when I decided to change things,” he says of his storybook romance.
Don’t be misled—it’s not an album about sap. An eerie interlude scratching barely there riffs, symbolically leads to the album’s closing track, “Meet Me At The Gates.” Each of these tracks were intelligently developed into a comprehensive, structured work.
Bokan emphasizes the magic brought by producer Baskette, who focused on the structure of music and melodies together.
‘That’s his forté,” Bokan says. “So we sat down a week before we started recording vocals and did a bunch of pre-production and scratch vocals and made them the best we could get them—refining lyrics or melodies, working collaboratively. It felt so good—it was back to business and hanging out with friends.”
The band’s most recent video release, "Promised Ones," channels the inner teenager waiting to revolt in all of us. Young kids “rise against” as the band acts as a backdrop to the ultimate dirt-driven revolution. Images of tattered clothes and soiled faces represent the band’s “incorrigible” fan base.
“We all got to shred our clothes up and get dirt all over ourselves,” Bokan says of the video shoot. “It was fun to do. We’re usually pretty clean cut and it was pretty sweet to become a different character.”
If you are the company you keep, Blessthefall is rolling with a cool crowd. The band has become close with peers As I Lay Dying, August Burns Red, Silverstein and Underoath. “We could chill with them for the rest of our lives,” Bokan says of his friends and heroes.
“Guys like August Burns Red, they’re blowing out two nights at the same venue, and they’re a role model in that respect,” he says. “They’re humble; they go out there every night and don’t have any type of ego—they just go out there and do their best. We’ve learned a lot from that band.”
That’s the thing about Bokan—for him this rollercoaster ride isn’t about subscribing to a particular sound or style—it’s a personal journey that continues to unfold. And while the band’s Christian faith is a significant influence, it’s clear that this band of brothers is committed to telling a story that anyone can relate to.
“I kind of went through a transformation in the last year,” Bokan says of his driving inspirations. “I was kind of living the wrong way on the road with temptations out there, and I decided to make a change in my life, for myself, and I fell away from the church. I just wasn’t living by those rules and convictions I originally had. With this record it’s a lot of about change and forgiveness, finding myself, which is rad because I feel like a lot of people can’t just come out and say that. Whether you believe in God or not, everyone has those things they want to change or aren’t happy with.”
You won’t find Blessthefall preaching about faith onstage, though, because, as Bokan says, the journey is to each his own.
“I’m pretty vocal,” he admits. “People know that I’m straightedge and I’m a Christian, and if they want to come talk to me about it after a show, that’s fine. I just don’t think preaching about something like that always gets your point across because that alienates people and they can’t ask you questions from the crowd.”
What’s big of Bokan and friends is that they’re not only willing to engage in this type of dialogue with fans and allow them to pose questions about their faith, but they’re actually willing to answer them.
“We want to be role models again,” Bokan says genuinely. “I know a lot of bands don’t want to take on that responsibility—they just want to party. But I feel like this record is going to give kids something to look up to.”
Blessthefall is headlining the Fearless Friends Tour when it stops at Gramercy Theatre on Nov. 26. For more information, go to myspace.com/blessthefall.