In the last five or so years there has been a massive increase in the prominence of American metalcore bands. Warped Tour is often saturated with them, be it flagship bands such as August Burns Red, or fairly new collectives with synths beneath their breakdowns like I See Stars. Michigan sextet We Came As Romans fall into the latter category, with albums like 2009’s debut To Plant A Seed and 2013’s more commercially successful Tracing Back Roots earning them a loyal, yet somewhat subdued fanbase. The buzz prior to the release of their new self-titled album, however, also seems to have been quite muted, which could be seen as documenting listeners writing the band off as another generic metalcore outfit too set in their ways to experiment a little.
But upon one listen to We Came As Romans, it becomes crystal clear that this is most certainly not the case. Sure, things start off as more of the same with Regenerate, a biting metalcore track which showcases both co-vocalist Dave Stephens’ trademark screams along with his vastly improved clean vocals first heard on Tracing Back Roots. Usual clean vocalist and keyboardist Kyle Pavone is almost rendered obsolete on this track, too, as his vocals are rare and synth additions minimal. It’s not a massively strong start when compared to past straight-up metalcore tracks of theirs which combined the heaviness and synths effortlessly. But things pick up immediately afterwards and the true development of We Came As Romans’ sound is audible. Who Will Pray? is almost like a rock song, seeing Stephens’ husky cleans take centre stage with no screams, synths or breakdowns included.
And this is a blueprint for the rest of the album. Gone are the constant intricate riffs from guitarists Joshua Moore and Lou Cotton, and in their place are far more straightforward hard rock chords underlying most tracks. Pavone’s silky vocals work with Stephens’ as well as ever, and his synths are still evident, just a lot more subtly, which really works on tracks like The World I Used To Know. Combining the best of their sound with a stadium chorus, it makes for one of the best songs on the album. It also highlights their new, more mature sound. Blur is also a good track to truly hear this. It’s epic, intense, and possibly the furthest away from We Came As Romans’ original, more generic metalcore sound. But perhaps the biggest surprise on We Came As Romans is Savior Of The Week, which is almost poppy, utilizing hand claps and catchy verses, only overtly using metalcore aspects until the chorus when heavy guitars are introduced. Although it’s completely unexpected, it’s immediately likeable and finally shows the level of diversity We Came As Romans are capable of.
It isn’t all smooth sailing, though. Memories contains no screams whatsoever, and that combined with a piano intro makes it too sickly sweet to handle. Defiance does not stray from We Came As Romans’ original sound whatsoever, so it’s boring in comparison to the album’s other, more innovative tracks. Album closer 1230 starts off strong, with just Pavone’s vocals over subtle synths, setting the listener up for something interesting. But it soon explodes into Stephens’ screaming with heavy guitars, leaving only disappointment over what could have been.
We Came As Romans have massively developed their sound by reducing the metalcore and upping the mainstream. This is definitely not a bad thing as the result is a polished, mature, and likeable record. And there’s something for anyone left dubious by this statement too, as around a quarter of the record boasts no development whatsoever. It is clear that We Came As Romans is a record intending to bridge a gap between the old band and the new. And if the first steps of this transformation are this good, then We Came As Romans’ next record is sure to make them unstoppable.
For fans of: Bring Me The Horizon, I See Stars, Bury Tomorrow
Words by Georgia Jackson
‘We Came As Romans’ by We Came As Romans is out now on Equal Vision Records.