Writers at Independent Clauses have been following Sleep Bellum Sonno since their first release Ascertain, which was a pretty powerful post-hardcore affair: intense, moody rock instrumentals punctuated by screamed vocals and the occasional breakdown. As SBS has matured over the last five years, they’ve spent more and more energy on the moods of their songs and less on the overt aggression. This has enabled their music to become intense in a completely different way.
The two songs on their split with Joie De Vivre show that they can run people through the emotional wringer without using massive riffs or hardcore breakdowns. Opener “Do You Hear That Old Ship’s Song” uses enough reverb and space in the arrangement of the song that it has the feel of a tune leaking out from an old ghost ship at the bottom of the ocean. The group male vocals at the end singing “whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh” certainly help this mood as well.
The band does venture into double-throated screaming, as both vocalists get their yell on here. One’s tone is more of a MeWithoutYou-style yeller, while the other is a throat-shredding screamer; the former is more appetizing than the latter, as it fits better with the tone and timbre of the song. The move away from aggressive instrumental work should also prompt a shift away from the brutal vocals, I hope. It would work better for the songs.
They show that they understand this principle in the second and final track “All I Can See Is an Open Road.” The track is more uptempo, delving into some dissonant chordal work and intense sections of rock. But even when they crank up the instrumental intensity, they dial back the vocals to a roar instead of a throat-shredding scream. It works very, very well, making the latter a more effective track than the former. “All I Can See Is an Open Road” is just as intense as anything they’ve put out before; they have just channeled their fury in a different direction and to a different outlet.
Both of these tracks are excellent post-hardcore pieces. Sleep Bellum Sonno continues to progress in their songwriting, and I see nothing but good things for them if they press on. Pick up their half of the split here.
This is the full title of Sleep Bellum Sonno‘s latest album: “Judge Us by How we Lived our Lives not by How we Made our Living. ” I put it in quotes instead of our style-mandated italics because they straight-up used italics in their title. That tells me one thing: SBS is not messing around. This is serious stuff, and they let you know it before the first note hits.
In addition to being really serious, the album is a concept album. Each song has two titles, one that is the title of the song and the second that is the occupation of the narrator, for song titles that look like this: “When I Quit, You Can Put Dirt On Me. (Harvester)” On top of that, only one song has a title less than eight words long.
I put that all out front because some people just can’t stomach the uber-artistic, socially conscious idiom. If you’re still interested after all that, then you’re in for a trip. Sleep Bellum Sonno plays post-hardcore in a vein similar to MeWithoutYou. The two bands share a propensity for intense musical passages accompanied by spoken or hollered vocals, poetic storytelling, and unusual instrumentation. They diverge at the point where the hardcore stops and the other parts begin; mewithoutYou plays groove-heavy, pop-inflected passages, while Sleep Bellum Sonno plays quiet, pensive indie-rock. This isn’t a “one is better than the other” statement; it’s just a statement of what is.
The members of Sleep Bellum Sonno have been around the block, musically. They’re capable of spazz-core (“When the Lights are Low I Can Hear the Devil at My Door”), rock’n’roll (“Rewind, Rewind, Rewind. Tend to Our Stories.”), bass-heavy indie rock (“I’ve Got So Many Prospects but All of Them are Underground”) and more. Their best moments come when they’re alternating between hardcore rage and pensive moments. That’s the two genres that the band really gels in; in other idioms, things just feel a little off. This makes “…Prospects…” one of the better tracks, as calm singing gives way to angry hollering as the music shifts accordingly. There’s nothing in between, and for once that’s really great. Transitions? Who needs them?
The few problems with this album arise from personal taste. I am not a huge fan of the vocal tone employed through most of the album, and that makes a big impression. It’s a pretty nasal voice, but it doesn’t have the sharp edges that mewithoutYou’s Aaron Weiss developed early on. It has a tendency to wander in pitch, and that’s frustrating to me. It’s the one thing that stopped me from really falling in love with the album.
The long instrumental in “When I Quit, You Can Put Dirt On Me.” is one of my favorite moments on the album, as the sound is pure. The rest of the song helps my case, as there’s group yelling (one of my favorite musical tricks ever!) and hollering that’s secure in attitude and tone. It tells me that there’s still a lot of hope for SBS in the vocal department; they just need to keep writing and experimenting with it.
If you’re a fan of artistic post-rock, Sleep Bellum Sonno’s “Judge Us by How we Lived our Lives not by How we Made our Living. ” is definitely one to check out. It’s on the harder side of the post-hardcore spectrum, in that there are some really loud moments. But if you’re a fan of Blood Brothers, Fear Before the March of Flames, The Felix Culpa, Chiodos, or Equal Vision records in general, this will please you immensely. Creative, inventive and thoroughly serious, this is an accomplishment.