One day, years down the road, when the tinnitus is ringing in our heads like the miniature bells of an ant colony, someone might tell their kids or grandchildren about a little band from New York called A Place To Bury Strangers. They’ll probably comment on how brutally loud their live show was, or how they went as far as to construct their own effect pedals to produce the synapse shredding sounds their guitars made. But how much of what people will say about this band be about their actual albums? The power trio (emphasis on power) came out of the gate strong with their self-titled debut in 2007, and arguably bested it on 2009’s underrated Exploding Head, but buzz surrounding the group has been largely silent since not long after that album dropped. Onwards To The Wall makes a very strong case for A Place To Bury Strangers’ strength as an album act, despite it being an EP. It’s far from being just an object they drop as an excuse to go on tour again.
Usually, bands are doing their damndest to capture the energy of their live performances on record, but in a bizarre turn of events, A Place To Bury Strangers succeed here by actually distancing themselves from the sensory pummeling they bring to the stage each night. This results in a set of assured, cleaner, and powerful tracks that stand firmly just as well as they launch into noisy freakouts, a trait that previously seemed just out of reach for the trio.
A lot of this credit can be given to whomever made the executive decision to turn up Dion Lunadon’s bass. While former bassist Jonathan Smith plugged away dutifully on past albums, the bass is practically the lead instrument on at least three songs here, Lunadon’s gritty yet full tone giving these songs all sorts of extra heft. He and drummer Jay Space are the rapid pistons powering opener “I Lost You,” while guitarist/vocalist Oliver Ackermann delivers a squalling set of surprisingly melodic guitars that eventually work themselves into frothing madness by song’s end. “So Far Away” boasts a cocksure strut, led once again by Lunadon’s snaking bass parts, Ackermann conjuring up crystalline shards from his guitar during the chorus. The title track boasts the same train-out-of-control qualities of earlier Cure singles like “Primary,” while “Nothing Will Surprise Me” transports the listener to a sort of digital desert punk wasteland.
Spotting the different influences at work here would be like reading down the tracklist of NOW That’s What I Call Post-Punk, Shoegaze & Industrial! (which, sadly, is not a real compilation). But that doesn’t matter. Onwards To The Wall presents A Place To Bury Strangers as a much stronger band than they were, and they were nothing to mess around before. It’s a restatement of relevance, a testament to strong songwriting, and ultimately, a legacy enhancer that they desperately needed.