One of the most respectable aspects of alternative veterans 10 Years is their refusal to release the same album twice. It would’ve been easy to ride the success of 2005’s excellent “The Autumn Effect” for years to come, but Jesse Hasek and company opted for the rougher road. Rather than give in to expectations, the band denied them with “Division” and utterly ignored them on “Feeding the Wolves.” It wasn’t until the band’s 2012 effort “Minus the Machine” that 10 Years decided to tap back into the atmospheric art rock vibes of their seminal recording, if only in sporadic bursts. Enter 2015, and here we have an album bearing that iconic hummingbird – skeletal and reflected over the eerie image of a child locked in utero. Sure, this is a blatant throwback, but it’s one that’s likely to ease fans into yet another sonic shift for the band. Sadly, this newest iteration of 10 Years seems split – much like the mirror image reflection of their logo — into two distinct halves: one embracing the band’s penchant for ethereal vibrancy and the other drowning in the ugliest recess of alternative metal banality.
For the positives, 10 Years still knows how to play 10 Years. Album closer “Moisture Residue” makes this abundantly clear, running through a slew of plaintive piano chords and sighing strings beneath Hasek’s trademarked croon. It’s enthralling when Hasek’s voice pierces through the thickening soundscape and singlehandedly underscores why he’s the group’s greatest asset. It’s as deflating of a closer as one could hope to ask for, playing out like a bleak epiphany in slow motion. “Vertigo” is yet another winner for 10 Years, channeling the band’s signature stylistics into a mid-tempo rocker replete with a soaring chorus and downtrodden, uncomfortable verses. Here, the band fires on all cylinders to deliver one of its finest songs in years; it’s concise, engaging, and meanwhile manages to retool the band’s established sound into a new, edgier angle. “From Birth to Burial” is at its best when it reinvigorates established concepts with a murkier slant. It does this often, but not often enough to save the record from numerous wasted minutes.
Problems begin to surface when the band deviates from its own blueprint. Rather than opt into a total consolidation of its strengths, roughly half of “From Birth to Burial” plays into the least engaging aspects of the alternative metal scene. Tracks such as the feverish “Triggers and Tripwires” totally eschew any hint of the band’s personality in favor of mundane exercises in musical weightlifting. Riffs abound, but the band’s muscle seems far more atrophied than in their less metallic recordings. Rare exceptions snap the listener back to attention, such as the simplistic, energetic crunch of lead single “Miscellanea” and the rollicking head-smasher of the title track. For the most part, however, the least engaging moments on “From Birth to Burial” come from its loudest. It’s a shame, really, because these surges of muddy force come far more frequently than on previous albums.
Unfortunately, the album’s cover says a lot more about the state of the band than they probably realize. That split image reflection of the hummingbird, the band’s logo, shows two distinct entities – two bands. With “From Birth to Burial,” 10 Years and 10 Years are playing to two separate, contradictory audiences. Half of the album winds through darkened permutations of the band’s atmospheric tendencies while the other half fights for the adoration of head-bobbing alternative addicts stuck in the mire of nu-metal. It’s unclear whether or not 10 Years will consolidate itself, but one thing is certain: 10 Years will always stay 10 Years, for better or worse.