Curtain up. This is the end you’ve all been waiting for. After two previous installments–The Emptiness (2010), A Place Where The Sun Is Silent (2011)–The Annabel Trilogy comes to a close with Alesana‘s fifth studio record, Confessions. Shawn Milke (vocals, guitar, piano) himself described the new record as “a panic attack” in our recent interview, and while he certainly didn’t exaggerate, Confessions is far more enjoyable than that. True, the eleven song compilation pushes the boundaries of comfort at times with dissonance and complicated structures (“The Acolyte,” “Through The Eyes Of Uriel”), but those alienating moments are relieved by catchier, pop-ier, more easily digestible sequences (“The Goddess,” “Fatal Optimist”) that effectively complete the conceptual masterpiece.
Much like A Place Where The Sun Is Silent, if you go into Confessions with the mindset you’ll be listening to an album, you probably won’t have the best time. Most tracks have more in common with movements of a score than actual rock songs, just as their creators are more akin to composers than standard hardcore musicians. You may have to listen to it several times before a good deal of the record sinks in in a satisfying way, but each time you will discover new, exciting elements. From humorous lines like “Dearest love I hope this finds you well/ I am kidding, this is probably Hell” (“Paradox”), to nursery rhyme melodies (“Through The Eyes Of Uriel”), and even reincorporating the single “Fatima Rusalka” into the Annabel narrative (“Fatal Optimist”), Confessions is an emotionally exhausting and surprising journey front to back.
While the album opens on an incredibly strong, entrancing note with “It Was A Dark And Stormy Night,” we turn our greatest attention to the closer (“THIS IS THE FINAL ACT!”), “Catharsis.” Like The Emptiness‘s “Annabel,” the last piece of the puzzle is expectedly epic, reaching the height of drama in a symphony of menacing whispers, desperate screams, racing guitar lines, and building drums. Yet after one of the most well-developed climaxes in post-hardcore history, the ending (Spoiler Alert) comes as a shock difficult to grapple with. After the hours of complexity Alesana have given us over three volumes, it all comes to a finish in the throws of bitter irony and a vanishing act. Dennis Lee (vocals) screams the tragic, “Did man even notice as he was erased?” and with a poof, all is over. My first reaction: “WHAT?!” My reaction after listening to it about seven times: “That’s actually brilliant.”
Honestly, this review could take up dozens of pages to accurately represent all that Alesana have done here, but for the sake of being somewhat brief, what you need to know is this: Alesana have created a work. Over the years, they’ve strung together an entire universe thread by thread, and how many other bands can say that?