I’m having trouble figuring out how to start this review on a note that fits with how I usually like to start reviews. Typically, I try to follow a particular formula: start with an observation on a larger discussion or common phenomenon within music – the idea of evolution across a band’s career, the way pitfalls and ensuing comebacks or weird left turns can recontextualize an established discography in unexpected way for better or worse, the constant argument over what’s “traditional” and what’s just straight-up unoriginal – and then move from there into the specifics of the album I’m reviewing that day, eventually explaining to some degree how it fits into that larger discussion.
That’s how I usually try to do it. But I find myself completely and totally bewildered by how I should talk about The Number Twelve Looks Like You‘s new record, their first in a decade, their comeback after what many of us thought was going to be one of those all-too-common hiatuses in this kind of music where “indefinite” really means “eternal.” Seriously, I sit here to write this review out, and I cannot think of any way to start this.
I suppose I should explain why. That might be a little unbecoming in contrast to the slightly more distant style of music review I tend to go for, where I try to feign some degree of objectivity to temper my obvious enthusiasm or distaste, but I’m not sure that I can really talk about Wild Gods anyway without discussing the reasons I can’t really approach this like I would a “normal” review.
The Number Twelve Looks Like You are a deeply, deeply important band to me. Mongrel, their third LP, was one of the first heavy records I ever truly fell in love with. Honestly, their entire pre-return corpus comprises four of my favorite albums ever written and recorded. More importantly, it contains four albums I like for distinctly different reasons: Put On Your Rosy Red Glasses is an uncompromising furnace of aggressive metalcore that almost verges on grindcore at times, Nuclear.Sad.Nuclear twists post-hardcore into its most caustic and labyrinthine iterations possible, Mongrel takes an approach to mathcore that pumps it full of melancholy and suffuses the whole affair’s heaviness with a deeply emotional undercurrent, and Worse Than Alone flirts with progressive metal and plenty of non-metal genres to create something that shouldn’t be nearly as listenable and cohesive as it is. Even by the intensely high bar for being called a “polymath” among mathcore bands, The Number Twelve have always stood out; they are the most chimeric band in a scene consisting almost entirely of chimeras.
They are important to me because, in addition to being an exemplary band when it comes to a discography that balances diversity with a cohesive sound, they encapsulate much of what matters to me with heavy music. Sure, I like riffs for the sake of riffs as much as the next person, but heavy music to me has always been about mood, atmosphere, a vibrant and robust emotional tone, more than it’s been about anything else. My favorite metal bands are those that, regardless of their genre(s) of origin, can turn their slab of auditory marble into a cohesive and evocative sculpture without turning away from the sound of heavy music or relegating it to the parts of “lesser importance”. The Number Twelve Looks Like You are absolute masters at this craft.
However, up until now, the discography of The Number Twelve has been static: my relationship with it has changed as I’ve grown to love and admire every strange foible and knot of the band’s tangled, non-Euclidean songwriting, as I’ve explored every nook and cranny of every album they’ve written. I have changed dramatically in the time I’ve been listening to this band as a listener of music and as a person in general. They’ve been an anchor, an unmovable pillar, something that was very much alive precisely in its own immovable cold death because of how much it remained in my life, unable to be re-contextualized or revitalized or altered. Up until now.
So, then, Wild Gods. I hope you’re still with me here. Fuck, dude. I can’t lie, I was really scared about this album. I tend towards pessimism, as much as I wish that wasn’t the case; a motto I learned young was “hope for the best, and expect the worst.” To be clear, I never thought Wild Gods was going to be an outright bad album; hearing “Ruin the Smile” as the first single was enough to dispel any notion that the record would be anything less than good. But, as I think I’ve made clear, a new record from The Number Twelve Looks Like You in 2019 has some incredibly big shoes to fill. I was scared Wild Gods wouldn’t live up to the legacy their last four records have left behind.
Without taking any longer to actually deliver an opinion on this record (theoretically, the thing you are actually here for), Wild Gods is good. It’s so fucking good. It is unbelievably, jaw-droppingly good. Jesse Korman and Alexis Pareja sound just as locked in today as a vocals-guitar duo as they did 10 years ago, and relative newcomers DJ Scully and Michael Kadnar (on bass and drums respectively) are in perfect step with the veterans of the band.
Musically, the band’s past trajectory into headier, more overtly progressive territory continues here in perfect fashion. Their aggressive edge has certainly not diminished in the decade since Worse Than Alone; if anything, they sound supercharged and electric when they do go all-out. The frantic, raucous post-hardcore/math-metal-core style The Number Twelve developed and maintained sounds just as caustic and violent now as it did in the past, bolstered in great part by the heavily increased diversity in genre and loudness in comparison to their past offerings. Whereas before, softer and less cacophonous sections were mostly either intros or interludes – the most famous of these being the salsa interlude on “The Garden’s All Nighters” – here, there’s a pervasive element of jazz that’s been deftly integrated into The Number Twelve’s DNA. This is evident as soon as the beginning of opener “Gallery of Thrills,” which wafts in rather delicately before exploding into aural pandemonium, but it’s not until the album plays out a little more that one starts to realize exactly how much the jazz on Wild Gods is less a strange little happenstance from time to time and more an integral part of the record’s sound. Melodies that breach the surface of an off-time riff return to be developed further in a softer segment of the song before coming full circle in a climactic whirling chaos. It speaks to a band that’s taken a long look backwards and understood exactly what they did before and how to twist it in just the right way to stay urgent, fresh, and original.
Conceptually and lyrically, The Number Twelve seem to have taken the time to contemplate their purpose as a band and reposition deftly. Speaking to the album’s themes, Korman says,
In the past my lyrics were stories that personally happened to me… After we disbanded, I always said that if I had a platform like Number Twelve again, I would speak for others and help tell their stories… This album is like a galactic freak show advertisement to aliens, telling them to come see this insane place we call Earth. On Earth, there are stories that are so out there, you would think they were made up. But no, this is what happens here on Earth. We have everything from priests who molest children, and churches that cover it up, to men thinking they are superior to women, to people killing wild animals with military grade weapons and calling it a sport. I am sort of like a deranged ringleader to this planet, telling the extraterrestrials to come see and hear all about it, to come see the Wild Gods.
It’s hard to say this fresh wave of aggression and the urgency the tracks on Wild Gods possess is solely due to this new lyrical motivation, but it’s also impossible to imagine it has nothing at all to do with the band’s wellspring of ire that’s still running fresh after a decade of absence. Regardless, it’s a theme that works well for the band’s sound; it helps Wild Gods to feel like a record with a true soul to it – something nigh impossible for comeback records, especially in a scene so specifically tied to a time now past as The Number Twelve’s was.
Wild Gods doesn’t feel like a comeback album. It doesn’t feel like an album coming out a full decade after the band’s last, or like only half of the original band is still present, or like innumerable countless life events have happened between Worse Than Alone and this. It is a new The Number Twelve Looks Like You record, with no conditionals applied. Wild Gods is phenomenal, bombastic, overflowing with aggression and urgency and energy; it’s a raucous burst of new life from one of the stalwart sentinels of a scene that theoretically died in 2010 and sputtered its last gasp in 2016 when The Dillinger Escape Plan released Dissociation and broke up. It’s exactly what anyone wanting another The Number Twelve Looks Like You record could ask for. It’s exactly what I could ask for. It’s fucking amazing.
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Wild Gods comes out on September 20th through Overlord Music.