Ashes Divide: Band, or Solo Project?

I have to admit, when I first heard that Billy Howerdel of A Perfect Circle was working on new music for a new band, I was excited. In fact, the idea is still exciting, considering the people he has working on his new album, Keep Telling Myself It’s Alright by Ashes Divide. Danny Lohner, Josh Freese, Devo Keenan, Alan Moulder, Paz Lenchantin… wait. Wait, wait, wait. This is another A Perfect Circle album, right?*

Well, yes and no.

At first listen it sounds much like Howerdel’s former band. But for most of the tracks on the album, the guitars are heavily subdued, and Maynard James Keenan’s darker vocals have been replaced by Billy’s own brilliantly keening tenor. For what it’s worth, the band sounds almost as much like 30 Seconds to Mars or Abandoned Pools (another Freese studio drumming project) as it does APC. While I appreciate the amazing musicianship on the album, and the production, and, well, everything but the songwriting, it can’t hold up with his better work.

The most disappointing part of the album is the frightening similarity all the songs have to each other. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the guitars are buried in the mix. Buried. The layers of reverb, delay, synth pads, and vocal processing gets in the way of the harmonic content of the songs, especially on the first half of the record. While Billy’s pitch-perfect vocals rise above and give the songs melodic flair, the entirety of the album seems so homogeneous that it’s difficult to tell one track from another. Therefore one has to wade through the washes of atmospherics to decipher the lyrics, because they’re really the only way to tell the songs apart.

The album does have some shining moments, though. I think that “A Wish” and “Ritual” are two of the best songs that have come out of Howerdel’s brain. And there’s the lead single, “The Stone,” which is easily the most single-like song on the album, and, unfortunately, one of the two remotely heavy songs on this outing. “The Prey” is the other, and sounds almost like Prong in the intro riff and structure. The album closer, “Sword,” is a good condensation of the album.

But, sadly, the lack of real variety on the album keeps it from being a truly great release. I’m hoping that the sales for it are high enough to allow Howerdel to keep churning out releases, though, because I like the direction he’s heading in, but not necessarily the execution. So I guess that’s a plea for you to go out and get Keep Telling Myself It’s Alright, if only to support a dude posing as a group so that maybe he can actually get the group together and get some outside input on his albums.

*So you don’t have to look those names up, they’re all people he’s worked with in A Perfect Circle.

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