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The Banner’s Greying Does Not Sound the Way You’d Imagine

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This is my first Banner album, so obviously the first step is finding out a little about the band.  They’re called The Banner, so my metal alarms haven’t tripped yet, or even triggered a status change from “dormant” to “stand by.”  Head on over to Metal-Archives:  no entry.  Not a great omen, but not damning.  Let’s see what Allmusic.com can scrape up for me…  The first piece of hard evidence is a (presumably old) band photo, and Jesus-fuck!  Do not look at that.  All hope is lost when gel-spiked black hair obscures band members’ eyes.  But again, here’s to hoping that’s an outdated pic, because Greying is much more engaging and enjoyable than that photo would suggest.  In fact, no matter what you read here, forget about it – Greying does not sound the way you’ll imagine, and you should quit imagining and get out there to give it a couple full-attention listens.  Now.

Greying is not an easy record to love, review or even understand.  A lot of it swims in a strange set of production choices that can make a listener feel like his headphones need replacing.  There are sections that fit the crusty A389 aesthetic, straddling that circular-saw-to-the-balls fulcrum between war-fed death chug and shit-pissed hardcore rant.  Other songs hover in fritzed-out goth mode.  At first, it sounds like two different bands who thought a split album meant taking turns every few songs, but after a few listens you eventually realized that every song lies somewhere along a continuum between these two poles – the haunted-attic crooning invests itself with dirty, heavy undertones; the ‘core-driven spasms all include pockets of broken, simmering misery.  “Send Me Down” balances the two personalities most evenly, but elements of both are well established throughout the album.

The most aggressive songs benefit from both brevity and a knack for catchy shout-along nuggets; for this reason and others, “Circle of Salt,” “Unbaptized” and “Sunset” recall Gaza’s racked dejection.  The album refuses to flag in its back half, with late tracks “VIII” and “She Upon the Black Wolf” raising the bar admirably with an increased sense of drama, while the instrumental piece “Bones to Dust” lays in a bit of rootsy foundation and laidback solo magic that takes Greying to a whole other place.

It can feel like The Banner worked too hard to cram too much into their forty minutes, but the album wouldn’t command nearly as much attention without the stylistic shapeshifting.  And it’s not like this comes anywhere close to third-rate kitchen-sink Bungle-wannabe mishmash bullshit.  Nothing on Greying is boring, lackluster or poorly executed, but many of the songs also feel like they could use some fine-tuning to ratchet them up from “really good” to “fucking great.”  That Allmusic bio suggestsThe Banner inhabit the same musical world as the Dillinger Escape Plan, but they will need to hone their sense of memorable songcraft to become truly worthy of the comparison.  That gulf is noticeable, but with the quality attack that The Banner already bring to the table, it also seems crossable.

The Banner’s Greying comes out December 9 on Good Fight. You can stream the track “Unbaptized” here and pre-order the album here.

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