Holy shit, Eidola. Like, what is there to even say? Positing that there’s a lot riding on this album from our point of view at Heavy Blog would be a massive understatement. Their last album, Degeneraterra, was tied with Wrvth‘s self titled for my favorite album of 2015. I reviewed it back when we still scored albums and gave it a 4/5 since it was pretty much perfect but a little too long and a little too scattered. It was #17 on our staff’s Top 50 list for the year. Pretty much all of us loved it. This is all to say, To Speak, To Listen has absolutely massive shoes to fill. I can only think of a couple other albums coming out this year that will have the same collective weight in the Heavy Blog camp (Leprous is the big one, if anyone’s curious).
From the singles, it didn’t really look like TSTL was going to do what it needed to do in order to capture our hearts the way its predecessor did. “Amplissimus Machina” and “Tetelestai” are both good songs in their own right, sure, but it seemed like the band was moving way too far into the Swancore side of their sound – for the unaware, that’s a subgenre of post-hardcore that leans heavily into the technical, mathy, metalcore-leaning idiosyncrasies of Dance Gavin Dance, especially their guitarist Will Swan – and forsaking a lot of the progressive rock roots that took them entirely above and beyond the trappings of their genre. I’ll be the first to admit that “Amplissimus Machina” really dampened my excitement for this new release, and that “Teletestai” doubled down on that disappointment. I expected this to be good, nothing more, nothing less. Certainly not up to the standards of Degeneraterra though.
What I certainly didn’t expect was an album that is – dare I say it? – another step up from Degeneraterra. Like, fuck, these guys are in a league completely their own at this point. For the wary, both of the singles are easily the most straightforward and standard tracks on here. The A-side, in general, might fool listeners the first time through, as the two tracks sandwiched between the singles – “Primitive Economics” and “Querents” – offer a great but pretty unoriginal take on the band’s -core side that leaves a lot to be desired in the context of their career writ large. That is to say, TSTL‘s A-side doesn’t exactly start the record off on the best foot; Eidola operates comfortably within the niche they’ve already carved out for themselves and a whole record of this would be nowhere near the quality they’ve reached in the past. (To be charitable, though, this is also a great primer on the “harder” side of the band’s sound, and newcomers to this group will likely appreciate getting to know the band through these tracks before things really kick up several notches in the latter half of the record.) For anyone that’s been anticipating this based on Eidola’s previous performances, you need to stick through the first five tracks, even though it may not inspire confidence in the rest of TSTL. What comes next is absolutely worth it.
On TSTL‘s sixth song, “Loti,” the gears switch. Where the previous five tracks have more or less immediately entered a fast clip, here we get Eidola in their more reserved, tempered state. It’s a beautiful, perfectly executed change of pace as the track builds into a mid-paced ballad that never reaches the semi-feverish pitch of the rest of the album up to this point, even as it wavers between ascendant, shimmering choruses and emotional valleys that reverberate and burn with understated tension. From here, we move into “Dendrochronology.” Counterpoint melodies bounce off one another and build energy for the explosion outward that comes just shy of the 60-second mark. The whole song moves back and forth from there between the A-side’s energetic, bombastic post-hardcore and the relaxed, unfazed placidity of “Loti.” Build tension, release it, fade, repeat. The maelstrom is omnipresent, so you enter the eye; the maelstrom moves and you move with it. It’s brilliant. This is the Eidola you came for, this is the Eidola that put out one of the most genius records of 2015, the Eidola that knows exactly how to manipulate energy and emotion.
Every track from here on out is absolutely brilliant, working in exactly the fashion this band should. Every kink in the machine has been worked out, everything meandering or overlong or anything else that stopped these guys from reaching their full potential before has been stripped away completely. Degeneraterra was a test run that passed with flying colors, but To Speak, To Listen is the real fucking deal. Calling this record deceptive is an understatement. A straightforward A-side becomes excellent in context, even if it’s ultimately unrewarding to anyone who wants more than standard Swancore from these genre savants, but the B-side it masks is a landmark album in modern progressive rock that shakes up the game entirely. To Speak, To Listen is a monumental achievement in both of the genres Eidola occupies, and it’s unlikely that we’ll see a better release in either for quite some time. Until Eidola puts out their fourth album, anyway.