"Ladies and gentlemen please take your seats, the story is about to begin." This phrase, uttered by an unknown announcer to a murmuring crowd, is what kicks off Alesana's fourth full-length, A Place Where The Sun Is Silent and hopefully it's enough notice to inform the listener that they're in for an hour of the most inventive music they've ever heard. Since forming in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 2004 Alesana have been creating some of the most cerebral and theatrical music the underground has to offer--and the band's Epitaph debut sees them transcending scenes and genres to craft something truly unique and original.
"I'm always working on stories so it's hard for me to pinpoint when we started writing this record," Alesana vocalist/guitarist/pianist Shawn Milke responds when asked when the band--which also includes drummer Jeremy Bryan, bassist Shane Crump, vocalist Dennis Lee and guitarists Patrick Thompson and Alex Torres--began concentrating their efforts on A Place Where The Sun Is Silent. "Being as conceptual as we are I'm always seeing the big picture months or even a year before the album comes out; it's something that's an ongoing process for me; in fact I've already started writing for the next record and this one isn't even out yet."
Produced by Kris Crummett (who also produced Alesana's 2010's breakthrough release The Emptiness), A Place Where The Sun Is Silent displays how much the band has grown both sonically and as individuals over the past year of tireless touring, and also sees Alesana pushing the boundaries of their sound in every conceivable way. "We get pigeonholed a lot because someone hears a group with screaming and they dismiss it immediately," Milke admits, "but if you give yourself ten minutes to digest what we do as a band you'll realize there's definitely a lot more going on with our music than you might initially notice."
Correspondingly, despite its bleak title, "Hand In Hand With The Damned" features soaring falsettos, brilliant guitar interplay, antagonizing backing vocals, and even a full choir arrangement which come together to add a new dimension to their sound instead of relying on screamo stereotypes. This mix of aggression and melody lies at the core of Alesana's musical identity and as instantly infectious orchestrally tinged tracks such as "Lullaby Of The Crucified" prove, the band has mastered those dynamics in order to create an album that might look strange on paper, but works seamlessly in the context of what the band have been perfecting for nearly a decade.
From pop gems such as "Beyond The Sacred Glass", to classically tinged piano ballads like Vestige", and orchestral interludes such as "Before Him All Shall Scatter," A Place Where The Sun Is Silent is as much a theatrical performance set to music as it is a traditional album, and is also a massive step forward for the band. "With each record we stray even further away from any formulas. In the past we've been criticized a few times for having piano ballads on our records, so on this album we did four tracks where there's just piano, singing, and other subtle instrumentation," Milke says with a laugh. "We don't really care what cynics think about what we do, our music is what we want to do in a totally unfiltered way."
While Alesana may not care what critics think, they have cultivated a deep relationship with their fans who dig deep into the iconography of the act in order to understand the myriad concepts on the albums, and even have the band's lyrics tattooed on their bodies and ingrained in their brains. "There are certain groups like Refused and Bayside who have a group of fans who are so steadfast that they just listen and read and do everything that your band does and we're definitely one of those bands that has that too, which is a great feeling" Milke explains. "I'd rather have 100 fans who fully get what we're doing than 1000 fans who just like us because it's the cool thing to do."
Lyrically, A Place Where The Sun Is Silent follows a linear narrative that was inspired by the themes and ideas of Dante's Inferno, yet not in a pedantic way that will make listening to the album feel like homework. "The problem with a lot of concept records is that lyrically most bands use too much of a narrative approach and they lose the listener because there's no hook, they're just trying to get the stories out," Milke, who was an English major in college, explains. In order to avoid this pitfall the band uses reformed, selected sections of their stories as lyrics and also release the extended narrative for those fans who are interested in following the story more closely.
With its grandiose string quartets, horns, choirs, narratives, and separate acts, A Place Where The Sun Is Silent is a groundbreaking approach at lessening the gap between listening to a record and witnessing something truly breathtaking. Alesana hope to transform A Place Where The Sun Is Silent into a full production this fall, but in the meantime the album is the closest you can get to a theatrical experience without leaving your home. "If our band ended tomorrow I'd be proud of the fact that we stayed true to our artistic integrity and never took the easy way out," Milke summarizes. "No matter what happens, I'll be able to sleep at night knowing we created something special."