September 13, 2011 - Equal Vision
Let's cut to the proverbial chase: If you like We Came As Romans, you will like Understanding What We've Grown To Be. The album is a close cousin of WCAR's freshman effort, 2009's To Plant A Seed, from growler David Stephens' occasionally indecipherable, generally powerful grunting to Kyle Pavone's ultra-clean vocals, nearly robotic in nature (although the blatant Auto-Tuning has subsided a bit on Understanding). The Michigan sextet continue delivering track after track of Joey Sturgis-produced contemporary metalcore heavily influenced by Underoath and the Devil Wears Prada, never getting as ambitious as the former or as downright heavy as the latter. Instead, WCAR sort of exist in this strange middle ground where they're not really all that aggressive of a band, considering the style of music in which they deal. Part of that can be attributed to Pavone, but not just his vocals: Some songs on Understanding have their momentum halted due to atmospheric synth breaks that feel wedged in, just to quiet things down for the synth op's clean vocals to shine through.
Luckily, that's not the case with every track; opener "Mis//Understanding" gets the clean/heavy balance just right, as does the powerful "A War Inside" and the title track, which features a great sea-shanty-esque sing-along ("Tonight, when I look into the sky/I know this is why I am alive/So sing with me if you feel this feeling/I'm alive") as strings crescendo behind Pavone and Stephens' vocal trade-offs. "Everything As Planned" starts off like a classic Saosin song, with creative drumming from Eric Choi, and continues the momentum when Stephens begins his lower-octave rumble—but the band have no idea how to end the song, opting for the copout of a strings-and-drums fadeout. Then, in the very next song ("What I Wished I Never Had"), the band end with a fadeout again, only this time with bass and drums. It's these kind of things that show WCAR's relative newness as professional songwriters—they know how to start a song with a band, but they've yet to master how to effectively end one, and that is a skill learned over time.
Throughout Understanding's 12 tracks, the band rarely push themselves in any new, unexplored directions, instead doubling down on what they do best—see "Views That Never Cease, To Keep Me From Myself" (a sort-of sequel to Seed's "Roads That Don't End And Views That Never Cease"). Nothing sounds outright bad; on the contrary, the musicianship is proficient and the energy is high throughout. But what We Came As Romans have grown to be is essentially a slightly more mature version of their teenage selves, which isn't quite enough to break the metalcore mold yet.