Second album from rising Michigan hardcore crew Chiodos begins as it means to go on, with the distinctly operatic 'Two Birds Stoned At Once.'
Opening with a shiver-inducing Victorian-tinged violin, 'Two Birds Stoned At Once' recalls The Used's 'The Bird and The Worm,' both in terms of its operatic leanings and the Bert McCracken-like twinge to frontman Craig Owens' voice.
'Two Birds Stoned At Once' is an attention-grabbing start, delivering plenty of machine-gun riffs and drums that permanently seem to be building up to something spectacular. 'Two Birds Stoned At Once' will leave you hungry to hear more of this album.
Track two doesn't disappoint, as 'Is It Progression If A Cannibal Uses A Fork?' takes all the theatrical energy of the album-opener, and ups the tempo. Crashing riffs, a full-blown backing choir and urgent main vocals make 'Is It Progression....' even more mind-blowing than 'Two Birds Stoned At Once.' The beginning section is particularly electrifying, as broody piano notes thrum beneath fluttery chords, again creating an oddly Victorian-tinged eeriness, before layering on crashing riffs and lashings of gothic backing vocals.
Chiodos hit another high note with an impassioned voiceover that, for once, won't have you curling your toes. Everything about 'Is It Progression....' is so overblown, you'll be completely carried away with the momentum, and overlook the inherent naffness of any mid-song voiceover.
The mind-bogglingly titled 'Lexington (Joey Pea-Pot With A Monkey Face)' brings something a little different to the mix, with tinkling piano keys and a slick, cabaret-inspired stomp.
It's here that it becomes obvious that Chiodos don't intend to make things easy for the listener, as 'Lexington....' is sorely missing an easy hook. However, this multi-part, hardcore opera is pulled off with so much flair, that you'll stick with it through its many inscrutable twists and turns. Like fellow musical maze-makers Biffy Clyro, Chiodos' songs have that awkward charisma that'll make you want to decipher them.
'Bulls Make Money, Bears Make Money, Pigs Get Slaughtered' really showcases Owens' vocal range, featuring some truly ear-popping vocals that add even more urgency to a chorus that was already bordering on life-affirming.
Chiodos take things down a notch for the powerful quasi-ballad 'A Letter From Janelle.' This marginally more sedate number boasts an irresistible chorus of near-perfect vocals and sparkling synths that emphasise the beautiful, lurking sadness to this song.
The UK version of this album features an acoustic version of 'A Letter From Janelle.' However, for some reason Chiodos layer on some whining strings, when this song really didn't need anything extra.
The acoustic version might have been more moving if it was stripped back an extra layer, to better reveal the sublime vocals that are 'A Letter From Janelle's strongest point. The overall impression of the acoustic version, is of a great idea that's been slightly over-complicated.
'I Didn't Say I Was Powerful, I Said I Was A Wizard' sees Chiodos return to the realms of the rock opera. It may leap all over the place and keep the listener constantly guessing as to where the song might go next, but 'I Didn't Say...' is such a powerful piece of bombastic rock, that you'll happily go along for the ride.
Again, Chiodos treat the UK to an acoustic version. Surprisingly, stripping away the theatrics doesn't make 'I Didn't Say I Was Powerful...' any easier to decipher. It's still impossible to find an underlying, coherent tune and, consequently, this acoustic version is surprisingly underwhelming. Chiodos are a more striking band when they go for the 'wow' factor.
This is also true of 'Life is A Perception of Your Own Reality.' Although bursts of sawing guitar and cabaret-inspired piano means this song goes for the throat more than the acoustic 'I Didn't Say I Was Powerful...' those stop-start, stomping Broadway rhythms aren't nearly as engrossing as full-blown Chiodos theatrics.
Chiodos unleash some serious pent-up anger with the galloping, drum-led '...And Then The Liver Screamed "Help!"' and the hardcore chug of 'If I Cut My Hair, Hawaii Will Sink.' Both feature frantic choruses, where throat-shredding, hardcore vocals ricochet off of yelped main vocals in an unusual hook.
Although Chiodos occasionally have the drums turned up too high at the expense of the other instruments on '.....And Then The Liver Screamed "Help!"' both tracks successfully serve up helpings of straightforward, abrasive noise. And, after almost an entire album's worth of pomp and showmanship, this harsher sound is a welcome change.
'We Swam From Albatross, The Day We Lost Kailey Cost' follows the tried-and-tested Chiodos formula of the bigger, the louder, and the more overblown, the better. This track fulfils all three of these requirements, but it's also notable in that the typically massive Chiodos chorus is given an extra boost thanks to some seriously emotional vocals courtesy of frontman Owens.
'Smitten For The Mitten' has a poppy sheen, with plenty of clean vocals and a hook-packed, pop-punk backing track that gives way to a mid-section of shimmery, piano-led atmospherics. Of course, this being Chiodos, this dreamy interlude soon erupts into a sweep of violin-studded classiness that wouldn't be out of place on a film score.
'Smitten For The Mitten' is Chiodos at their most accessible and, although there are tracks on this album that will blow you away, these same songs might have benefited from a sprinkling of 'Smitten For The Mitten's crowd-pleasing hooks.
'Intensity in Ten Cities' is the obligatory slow song, relying mainly on twinkling piano and unobtrusive strings that showcase the strength of Chiodos' lyric writing skills. Although this song doesn't quite reach heart-string-bothering highs, it's a pleasantly melodic listen with plenty of charisma lurking in those understated, but heartfelt, lyrics.
Final song on the original track listing, 'The Undertaker's Thirst For Revenge is Unquenchable (The Final Battle)' is, unsurprisingly, a rock-opera monster of epic proportions. A continuous drum-roll drives this song along, giving it a frighteningly focused, head's-down intensity. Liberal helpings of hardcore vocals boost drama levels even higher, making for a particularly furious end to an album that's all about delivering extravagant, darkness-infused drama.
'Bone Palace Ballet' is an album for those who like their music to be all-consuming. Chiodos take all the theatrics of I Am Ghost and Muse, and the complexities of Biffy Clyro, and come up with something that, although never an easy listen, is always an engrossing and exciting one.
The UK release also comes complete with a bonus DVD, featuring the music video for 'Lexington....' live footage from the Warped Tour, and short behind-the-scenes clips of the band on tour. If nothing else, it's impressive how much bonus material Chiodos have packed in for their UK release.