It’s incredibly difficult for a band to change their direction without losing fans and making enemies. People often incessantly attack said bands on the Internet or at shows for their alleged digressions. Darkthrone, Morbid Angel, Pelican, Paradise Lost, Ulver, Dillinger Escape Plan, Mastodon, Celtic Frost, Nachtmystium, Enslaved, Tiamat, Cryptopsy, Cave In, Voivod… notice the trend?
A Life Once Lost, a Philadelphia-based act active since 1999, is more than familiar with this criticism. To help counter it, the reissue of their debut album, Open Your Mouth for the Speechless… In Case of Those Appointed to Die (2000), even includes a disclaimer stating that the sound featured on the album is no longer representative of them. Regardless, they were lumped into metalcore, though their following four albums featured very technical, groovy, walloping sound, borrowing liberally from Meshuggah and Pantera. 13 years in, they continue resolutely down the path of divergence from their roots. Internal hiccups have occurred: five years have passed since Iron Gag and two founding members have departed. Founding vocalist Robert Meadows and guitarist Douglas Sabolick pushed on.
“To me, it’s worth the fight,” says Sabolick, who spoke at length with BeatRoute about the band’s upcoming full-length. “It was a pretty gruelling process to get this album out and it was worth the fight, for me, to do that. For me to say, ‘You know, there is a bunch of new bands. You guys are doing your thing, but I’m still here and I can still do this.”
The break between albums strengthened this resolve, as the band dealt with an exhausting touring regimen followed by a brief break from the band, along with negotiating a new contract. After Season of Mist took them on, drummer Justin Graves departed and, shortly after, guitarist Robert Carpenter left. The remaining duo kept writing, eventually picking up people to play with along the way.
“As time went on, we wrote a lot [of material] which we were known for previously and, at the end of the day, Bob and I weren’t really happy with how the record was going to be,” says Sabolick. “It was just the same old thing… So, we basically scrapped an album and started from scratch.”
Ecstatic Trance is the result. The record combines A Life Once Lost’s trademark sound with a layered guitar style that evokes a mechanized, industrial music feel reminiscent of Krautrock, channeled through pummelling metal. This trance-like sound lends itself to the unintentional theme uniting the ten tracks.
“It does kind of seem like a concept album in that everything is tied together,” agrees Sabolick. “We were influenced by industrial music, and I work in a nightclub, and I hear things like that a lot of the time. And my problem with a lot of metal is that it’s too white. It’s corny,” he says. “At the time we were heavily influenced by Kraftwerk, King Crimson… we were influenced by a lot of Afrobeat music, Fela Kuti, things of that ilk. Basically, what we imagined was like jam music using A Life Once Lost as the base for what’s coming out of it.”
Sabolick has already steeled himself for a negative reaction, despite feeling proud of what he and his bandmate have created.
“We’ve put out albums with almost four different styles on each album… and people want to pigeonhole us to this or that. Every album has done something different,” Sabolick insists. “People don’t want to let metal bands progress into something else and the thing I’m proud of is it sounds like no other bands.”
Although not entirely true – every band is derivative of something else, whether that’s intended or not – A Life Once Lost is innovative and ever-changing. Although some fans might be frustrated by the lack of sound consistency, rest assured the quality remains high.
See A Life Once Lost with Revocation, KEN mode, Frightenstein, and Sub-Atomic Chaos on Friday, October 26 at Vern’s Pub.
By Sarah Kitteringham