There’s a saying that great art is born from great pain, and there isn’t much greater pain to be experienced than that of Touché Amoré frontman Jeremy Bolm. In late 2013, Bolm received news that his mother had been diagnosed with Stage Four cancer, after beating the disease nearly twenty years earlier. Almost a year later on Halloween 2014, after playing a show in Gainesville, Florida, Bolm received the news that his mother had passed away. And after months of grief, Bolm and the rest of his band began work on Touché Amoré’s fourth album. The result is Stage Four, a tribute to Bolm’s mother and one of the most intense, emotional and brilliant post-hardcore albums to be released this year.
Of course, there were no doubts that this was going to be an intense and emotional listen, even putting the subject matter aside – hell, they’re the exact qualities that made 2011’s Parting The Sea Between Brightness And Me the widely-heralded classic that it is. But Stage Four utilises both to their absolute fullest, and of course, the bulk of such raw emotional resonance is courtesy of Bolm’s vocals and lyrics. He’s often reminiscent of letlive.’s Jason Butler, not so in vocal sound but in his delivery, erupting with heavy, tangible grief in every scream, making for an album that’s not an easy listen in the slightest, but one that’s oh so worthwhile, as tracks like New Halloween and the spine-chilling Benediction bleed out with immense fervour. But Stage Four is far more intricately woven than just out-and-out grief, with undercurrents of guilt running through for even more emotional heft. Eight Seconds finishes with Bolm’s screams of “She passed away about an hour ago / While you were onstage living the dream” almost completely without a backing instrumental as if to highlight one of the record’s true emotional cruxes. Perhaps the most gut-wrenching moment is split right across the album’s runtime though, as New Halloween sees Bolm grieving to his mother that “I haven’t found that courage to listen to your last message to me”, before closer Skyscraper ends the album with that exact voicemail, partly as a method of closure but also as some sort of subliminal punishment from Bolm to himself for his own predetermined absences. It’s powerful as hell, more powerful than most music released this year, and though the album’s third quarter does admittedly dip in the department of raw emotional charge, as an entire journey from start to finish, this is about as stirring and heart-rippingly personal as music gets.
What makes this an even more difficult listen is the juxtaposition between lyrics and music. As the backdrop to Bolm’s bloodletting is the sort of surging, artsy punk that’s definitely a jarring combination to say the least. But while the largely uptempo feel and Clayton Stevens’ jangling, minor guitars on Flowers And You and Palm Dreams couldn’t be any more out of place, the intricacy and intensity present runs parallel to that in the lyrics. Just like Bolm’s words, there are so many layers and feelings to be unpacked within the music itself that only after many repeat listens do the true joys of this album reveal themselves. Tracks like Rapture and Benediction rely on both lyrics and instrumentals in equal capacities, fusing both together to get the maximum impact. And with the lack of big choruses and earworm hooks that this album has, it ensures that the heavy content of the album remains completely undiluted in terms of its emotional payoff.
With that being the case, Stage Four certainly won’t be an album for everyone – considering how hard-hitting and vital it is, that much is obvious. But it’s an album that requires massive amounts of perseverance to really get onboard with, an album whose brutal honesty grounded in real tragedy only reaches its peak with unflinching concentration. But in the end, it’s so worth it. With Stage Four, Touché Amoré have crafted one of the sleeper hits of the year, a beautiful, cathartic experience that shows exactly how true pain can birth something wonderful.
For fans of: La Dispute, letlive., Defeater
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Stage Four’ by Touché Amoré is out now on Epitaph Records.