Release Date: Sep 16, 2016
Record label: Epitaph
In 2013, I suffered a severe bout of depression. Is Survived By was the album that saved my life. It found TouchÃ© AmorÃ© vocalist, Jeremy Bolm, questioning mortality, which resonated deeply with me at that point. Up until this year, I thought he spoke from a generic place, a conceptual one ….
Some beauty gently caresses you with tender love and care in the darkest of moments. Think of Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell. Soothingly plucked guitars, expansive soundscapes and pensive mediations on death walk the listener through a painful, yet delicate series of Stevens’ memories. Another form of beauty is a little less subtle, opting instead for an over-the-top delivery that highlights the bruises, cuts and devastation that come with loving something and watching it pass.
At this stage, Los Angeles post–hardcore act Touché Amoré don’t have anything to prove. With three records of increasing quality under their belt, the Californian five-piece can rest easy knowing they have already achieved an incredible level of success for a young band with humble beginnings. Frontman Jeremy Bolm himself has spoken about wanting to stay the genuine, heartfelt group they are known for in the face of success in interviews.
On the second track of Touché Amoré's emotional and complicated fourth effort Stage Four, vocalist Jeremy Bolm addresses his late mother — as he does throughout the album, written out of grief, guilt and regret over her passing due to cancer two years ago — and tells her, "I haven't found the courage to listen to your last message to me. "The album is a passionately written and deeply moving meditation on loss, and Touché Amoré have never been better as a band. Bolm's throat-shredding yell tears through most of these lines, reminding us that although there's change here, this is the same band that wrote three blistering post-hardcore records before this.
Touché Amoré have been around for just under a decade, but they’ve already ascended from stalwarts of the Long Beach punk community, to flag-bearers of the American post-hardcore renaissance, to the heaviest band managed by Roc Nation. They’ve shared stages with heavy-hitters like Converge and AFI, and even played Jay Z’s Made in America festival last month alongside Rihanna, Coldplay, and Lil Wayne. Anyone who’s heard Touché’s racket—a leaden mix of serrated guitar leads, head-spinning tempos, and frontman Jeremy Bolm’s impassioned screams—knows that it’s not exactly poppy; but what the band lack in a universally-adored sound, they make up for twice-over with timeless themes.
Touché Amoré’s music has always been intensely autobiographical and that introspection has reached peak levels on its fourth full-length, 'Stage Four.' The album is essentially a song-by-song narrative about frontman Jeremy Bolm’s mother’s battle with cancer and hearing him recount his internal dialogue about her death via songs like “Eight Seconds” will leave you shaken. Aptly tracks like “Palm Dreams” see the rest of the band similarly shedding their skin and taking their brand of melodic hardcore/punk to dazzling new destinations. “I am still bereaved, come every ocean breeze,” Bolm sings on the aforementioned track.
This album deserves your attention. Ostensibly a reference to this being their fourth full-length, ‘Stage Four’ actually alludes to the cancer that recently claimed frontman Jeremy Bolm’s mother’s life.It’s tough and worthy subject matter for the L.A. quintet’s peculiar brand of hardcore, and while there are enough shards of aggression to remind you this is punk, it’s a deeply personal concept album running the full gamut of emotions.In sorrow they have found opportunity, and use every single one of the musical tools at their disposal.
When researching for a review, it’s not often I find myself Googling “advanced-stage cancer treatment”, but for Touché Amoré’s latest, this was a sobering necessity. Stage Four is a fitting title, given the fact that this is the Burbank, CA outfit’s fourth album, but it also resonates with a potent dualism as it refers to the cancer diagnosis faced by the mother of vocalist Jeremy Blom, which tragically led to her passing in 2014. With this in mind, it’s tempting to approach Stage Four with a tentative step, but to do so misses the point.
After clean guitar leads give way to a stampede of distorted guitars and pummeled drums on “Flowers and You”, the opening track on Touché Amoré‘s fourth studio LP Stage Four, vocalist Jeremy Bolm screams, “I’m heartsick/ and well rehearsed!” He is not inaccurate in that estimation. Heartsickness is perhaps the foundational subject of Touché Amoré‘s music; just four records into a career that began with 2009’s …To the Beat of a Dead Horse, the band sounds well-rehearsed in that subject indeed. But just five songs later, Bolm confesses, “There is no dress rehearsal / Just a script that I never read… Is it curtains already? / I haven’t learned my lines.” So much has changed for Bolm in so little time.
A couple years back, Noisey series Sound Off! interviewed the members of Touché Amoré. In addition to discussing burritos and the art of milking, host Andrew Seward (formerly of Against Me!) commented that the band’s career was really starting to open up, as they had left behind some of the hardcore shitholes of the early years in favor of more expansive venues. That level of growth was inevitable, given the band’s passionate fanbase and hectic tour schedule.
Hardcore has always defined itself as a close-knit community, especially underlined by the youth-crew movement of the early to mid-’80s. The bands often lack pomp and frills, the kids dress down, and together everyone assumes an almost implicit underdog mentality. Because for all its aggression, hardcore is predicated on the idea that no one person is bigger than the team, and that if you want to scream from the fringes of rock ’n’ roll and punk and make a sound, you damn well better do it en masse.