REVIEW: Silent Planet plays metalcore for a 21st-century dystopia on new record

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Silent Planet, When the End Began

Named for C.S. Lewis’ science fiction book, Silent Planet is the thinking man’s Christian metalcore band. The band started at Azusa Pacific University, incorporating theology and philosophy into its forward-thinking sound. The quartet is now driven by frontman Garrett Russell and founding guitarist Mitchell Stark, whose lyricism and creative songwriting made 2014’s The Night God Slept and 2016’s Everything Was Sound some of the best new music released by Solid State Records. This third LP ups the ante. When the End Began is Silent Planet’s heaviest, biggest and most relevant album.

When the End Began
Silent Planet
Solid State Records, Nov. 2

“The night God slept everything was sound when the end began,” Russell screams during intro track “Thus Spoke.” He cleverly forms the three Silent Planet album titles into a single sentence, effectively making this album a culmination of what its predecessors set up. When the End Began plays out like a sci-fi drama, thoroughly appraising a world reaching a critical condition and searching for transcendent truth.

“The New Eternity” effectively sets the tone with siren-like dissonance, barrel-chested breakdowns and a potent chorus. Bassist Thomas Freckleton hasn’t lost his falsetto vocal range, providing rousing melodies alongside Russell’s mean growls. Russell’s fiery lyrics generate powerful urgency during the post-rock interlude: “Crowds galvanized by vapid words and septic slurs/ Utterly transfixed by the fiction of the greater good.” The track sets up a metalcore album for the Trump era.

If the title’s shared name with Picasso’s political painting didn’t drop the hint, “Northern Fires (Guernica)” is Silent Planet’s anti-fascist manifesto. Russell decries the death of democracy by identitarianism and social control. He harkens back to the Spanish Civil War to illustrate how victors distort history in their favor. This song also uses technicality and cathartic drops, emphasizing the unpredictable time signatures and evolving grooves.

“Vanity of Sleep” takes a similar approach to anti-capitalist rhetoric. Russell calls consumerism an “arbitrary sanctuary, where we deposit prayers to dispensable God,” referencing everything from Biblical stories to the Strauss-Howe generational theory. He weaves his engrossing narratives into the instrument’s combination of Architects-style shred-fests, ambient meditations and empowering melodic metal. These tracks also introduce a more “djent“-like guitar tone, making for some heavier riffs.

Silent Planet recorded When the End Began in drop-F tuning, which the band uses to a pulverizing effect. The seismic string bends and sludgy chugs of “Afterdusk” make it Silent Planet’s most crushing song yet. The detuned juggernaut remains consistent to the album’s cinematic theme with ominous string arrangements and dystopian lyrics.

“Visible Unseen” blunt-punch guitar playing with spiraling melody, but maintains familiar tech-groove riffs and triumphant choruses. Silent Planet subverts expectations with alien feedback stabs and breakneck rhythm changes, but the band’s accessibility allows it to do this while circling back to catchy motifs.

“In Absence” breaks outside the cringe-worthy tropes of Hot Topic post-hardcore ballads. Beyond its 15/8 time signature and harmonious singing, the song’s meticulous production embodies the exponential leap Silent Planet has taken with its sound design. Between its bulked-up low end and expansive sci-fi ambiance, When the End Began carries incredible weight. “Look Outside: Dream” and “Look Inside: Awake” aren’t simply filler interludes. They fit appropriately into the album’s immersive soundscape.

While it doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel, When the End Began elevates itself with impressive performances. “Lower Empire” brings technicality in spades, beginning with drummer Alex Camarena’s funky beat and Stark’s dazzling guitar line, a-la Animals as Leaders. Camarena locks in with Freckleton’s full-bodied bass tone, guiding the band through eerie tremolo picking, spellbinding synth pads and vocoder experimentation.

Russell’s vocals are as calculated as they expressive. His more guttural screams, while not particularly distinct, synchronize with the instruments. His standout performances come via emotive spoken-word crescendos, akin to MewithoutYou. His effective combination of heart, brutality and thoughtfulness makes this album engrossing. “Burning in a bliss you can’t sustain/ Am I a hedonist or a solipsist,” he questions on “Share the Body,” a vulnerable song about drug addiction. In spite of his heady diction, Russell wears his heart on his sleeve. He strikes a chord at the heart of the human experience.

More standout lyricism comes on the celestial ode to the dead, “Firstborn (Ya’aburnee).” It’s named after an Arabic phrase, meaning “you’ll bury me,” and is actually a hopeful tune about dying before loved ones in order to avoid life without them. Tortured screams and soaring clean vocals stare death and heartbreak in the face over thick riffs and low-key jazz sections. In his sadness, Russell still finds refuge in Paul the Apostle’s hope for resurrection in Thessalonians 4:13.

Silent Planet supports its heady themes with dextrous musicality. It’s still progressive metal that’s defined by the past decade of tech-metal and post-hardcore. But this isn’t ha problem thanks to Silent Planet’s spiritual weight and impeccable songwriting. Every song on When the End Began comes packed with the infectious chemistry, but with an added sense of size and spectacle.

“The Anatomy of Time (Babel)” brings the sci-fi elements to a head with futuristic synths and doomsday lyrics, but closer “Depths III” lifts the album to its peak with cathartic dynamism. The final cut’s glacial chords and sweeping keyboards see Russell plead God to “Be [his] eyes, show [him] hope in the maw of the night.” The overwhelming post-rock abandon spotlights the theme of “eternal returns,” acknowledging the world’s downward spiral as a road back to a source of good and truth.

When the End Began could be seen as a harbinger for Armageddon, but Silent Planet simultaneously illuminates a broken world and the timeless truths that would save it.

Follow editor Max Heilman at Twitter.com/madmaxx1995 and Instagram.com/maxlikessound.

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