thrice, the venetia fair, la dispute, touche amore
[Photos by: Thrice/Epitaph Records, The Venetia Fair, La Dispute, Touché Amoré/George Clarke]

Post-hardcore is especially rich in concept albums. Perhaps that’s because the immense vocal palette—from tender crooning to raw screaming—lends itself to expressing emotions. The music similarly matches. Sure, metalcore can deliver crushing breakdowns, but it rarely gets as intimate as this companion genre. There’s also the fact that the high-pitched singing elicits desperation so often central to the yarns spun.

Whatever it is, the world’s been blessed with a litany of them. There are even bands (Coheed And Cambria, the Dear Hunter, Defeater) who spend entire discographies building cohesive narratives. Those are avoided here, instead focusing on one-off releases so masterful that they fit entire narrative arcs.

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Boys Night Out – Trainwreck

Boys Night Out carefully crafted a concept album that tells the tale of a man who steadily loses his mind after killing his wife in his sleep. The killer slips in and out of states of catatonia, in between which he cuts off his hands in shame. He begins poisoning friends and family to populate a song he’s composing in his head, so incessant it spreads like the infection from his wrists. He kills himself to be reunited with a former lover, an imagined facsimile of whom instructed him to kill the doctor. Trainwreck closes with the line, “We were inseparable,” hinting that the entities may be one. Talk about a mindfuck!

Drop Dead, Gorgeous – Worse Than A Fairy Tale

Drop Dead, Gorgeous unleash a modern-day, small-town Jack the Ripper caper. Like the Whitechapel killer, this one feels moral superiority over women—coming for prostitutes or those unfaithful. One Redditor speculates it’s a kind of master/puppet dynamic, with one guiding and another executing the, uhhh, executions. Speaking of executions, the band’s was on point here. A website featured case files, which fans could combine with YouTube clues and lyrics to identify the killer.

Senses Fail – Still Searching

Many concept albums hide the author or authors in the story, revealing bits and pieces of them throughout. Buddy Nielsen is a bit more direct on Senses Fail’s Still Searching. The story is one of disillusionment with things purported to help, namely religion and doctors. There’s plenty of medicating, both legitimate (via the “white coats”) and self-prescribed via sex, drugs and alcohol. This ultimately ends with a jumping suicide, the character defying faith and gravity in its position: a pavement-kissing upside-down cross. It’s a bloody fate that Nielsen has thankfully avoided, despite his life bleeding into the semi-autobiographical story. Upcoming eighth LP What The Thunder Said, Hell Is In Your Head is a stylistic and lyrical continuation of Still Searching. We’re looking forward to how Nielsen continues the story, despite the gravitas and finality of suicide.

Silverstein – A Shipwreck In The Sand

Silverstein have three concept albums, though A Shipwreck In The Sand is the purest example in terms of concept album means story. (This Is How The Wind Shifts pairs a side A song with a side B counterpart to start and finish a mini story. I Am Alive In Everything I Touch is broken into four chapters according to region, with each occurring in a different city in that area.) Similarly divided into four chapters, Shipwreck follows a man who’s sick yet can’t afford treatment—and his wife cheated. Angry, he sets the house on fire with his wife and daughter in it. A change of heart leads him to save them. Unfortunately, the deed was done, and he loses custody of his daughter, which leads him to suicide. The final song is a conversational duet between the couple, with the wife “played” by LIGHTS (almost Sarah McLachlan). Posthumous amends are made. Tragic.

Thrice – The Alchemy Index

Thrice went heady with their concept on The Alchemy Index: two studio albums based on the four elements. The music takes inspiration from the corresponding element. Fire is crushingly heavy, while counterpart Water delves into ambiance and electronics. Appropriately, Air is more atmospheric and soaring, while Earth is grounded, stripped down and folky. Lyrically, the songs all spin around their subject matter, though the inspirations speak loudest (figuratively) on each element’s respective closers; Dustin Kensrue wrote each as a sonnet—in iambic pentameter, no less—from the perspective. 

Vendetta Red – Sisters Of The Red Death

The intensity of Vendetta Red’s fourth LP can be deduced from its namesake. The Brothers and Sisters of Red Death was a primarily Russian cult predicated on an upcoming apocalypse. Members set themselves on fire to avoid that, but Vendetta Red wrote an album about the aftermath of such an event. The post-apocalyptic world is being run (further) into the ground by men, while women are abused—often into the ground, tragically. Gloria is the mutated offspring of a literal nuclear family and forms the titular cult to rise up against men. There’s a song called “The Great Castration,” which gives you a hint of what’s to come. It’s much too brutal for these pages and the creatively catchy music on Sisters Of The Red Death.

I Am Ghost – Lovers’ Requiem

I Am Ghost were more full of bombast than their post-hardcore peers, as evidenced by their makeup-laden faces and violin-laced epics. Thus, they are the perfect band to adapt a Shakespearean romantic tragedy for the most tragically romantic demographic: teenage “goths.” What they made was an album that transcended those trappings, as Lovers’ Requiem ups the stakes on Romeo And Juliet. You thought being separated by familial fighting was hard? Try being trapped in hell with your lover in heaven. There are references to vampires, “shark people,” the “Leopard King” and “Spider Queen,” as well as Latin lyrics. The riffs get pretty metal in places, too.

Alesana – The Emptiness

There’s more classic lit inspiration here. Alesana took inspiration from Annabel Lee, the final poem of Edgar Allan Poe, though it’s quite Romeo And Juliet-esque, too. The story of severed psyche starts as a man finds his lover dead. He decides none can be happy if he can’t and puts the laughter in slaughter, executing those who show joy. Eventually coming face to face with Anabel’s killer, they duel to the death. His stab wound awakens him to the reality where his lover holds the knife. The rest of the album shifts perspective to Anabel, who reveals her artist lover was losing his mind. It was easy to see, as he put increasingly violent images to paper, prompting her to kill him to protect herself. We broke the rules a bit here, as the story continued on later albums, an EP and even a book. However, this really laid the groundwork that all future works would reference.

Touché Amoré – Stage Four

Stage Four is a nuanced title for this, Touché Amoré’s fourth album and one based on a cancerous death. Jeremy Bolm, well known for his poetic ponderings, confronts the passing of his mother. That this happens a mere three years after wrestling with mortality on 2013’s Is Survived By underscores music’s therapeutic nature. Concept albums are often posited as conscious choices, but here Bolm no doubt had to focus on the tragedy.

The Devil Wears Prada – Zombie EP

The Devil Wears Prada actually predated The Walking Dead TV show with this EP. Vocalist Mike Hranica’s interest in the EP’s namesake gnawed away at his brain until he penned this five-song banger. The band lean on the metalcore side of the post-hardcore equation but even more on this, their most aggressive release. That being said, they deserve a spot here for singing that soars akin to post-hardcore’s best. Subtle sound effects of zombies moaning and guns cocking bring the listener into the world.

Protest The Hero – Kezia

Here’s another example of a band whose discography at large leans elsewhere—this one even more so. Scrappy punks Protest The Hero might’ve ended up more like the post-hardcore bands with whom they toured with around Kezia. However, they’re too damn good at their instruments and steered in the prog-metal direction that began here. That sound’s collision with screamo-ier tendencies was the perfect backdrop for this story of a woman’s execution. It’s told through three perspectives: a priest, the tandem prison guard/executioner and the titular woman herself. Each touches on the situation, their relationship with Kezia and their perspective on her shooting.

Circa Survive – Juturna

This album’s status as a concept album is tenuous, but this is our list, and Anthony Green deserves to be on here at least twice, dammit! (More on that in the entry below.) What’s not up for debate is that Circa Survive’s debut, Juturna, is a stone-cold classic. It also definitely references the heartbreaking film Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and the surreal novel House Of Leaves. Whether or not it’s a fiction-hopping mindfuck is your call, though the latter expletive exclamation applies with or without concept.

The Sound Of Animals Fighting – Tiger And The Duke

An ever-changing collective of scene luminaries concealed under animal masks is the perfect group to craft a wild concept album. Their name is devolved from the cargo of Tiger And The Duke’s ship: a motley crew of crazy, fighting animals. Yes, this is essentially a modern Noah’s Ark, though it comes with the decidedly un-Christian act of mutiny. (Actually, that’s pretty biblical itself, as Jesus’ death was essentially similar circumstances, but we digress.) The captain jumps off the boat, but we’d invite you to jump right into the Sound Of Animals Fighting’s debut album.

Funeral For A Friend – Tales Don’t Tell Themselves

Here’s another album proving that post-hardcore’s fascination with water extends beyond all those nautical star and anchor tattoos. This one centers around a fishing boat, not a cargo ship as above, which is destroyed in a storm. As its lone survivor, the captain drifts around losing his mind and giving up. He ultimately rallies and builds a raft to attempt a reunion with his daughter and wife. A happy ending in post-hardcore? Funeral For A Friend make it more likely than you’d think on Tales Don’t Tell Themselves.

Jamie’s Elsewhere – They Said A Storm Was Coming

We’re still in the ocean, as Jamie’s Elsewhere penned a tale of a sailing 1400s mapmaker stranded at sea. The idea came after Aaron Pauley (now in Of Mice & Men) decided to expand on a rather bizarre dream he had. Turns out the storm was both literal and metaphorical, as the voyager takes his journey within to make peace. In the end, he accepts his imminent death due to his soul searching and exorcising. This is a genre high watermark and will continue to be even as the tide (and, consequently, bar) rises.

The Venetia Fair – Every Sick, Disgusting Thought We’ve Got In Our Brain

It doesn’t get much deeper than the Venetia Fair’s Every Sick, Disgusting Thought We’ve Got In Our Brain. The storyline known as The Scientist And The Painter actually follows one man who represents both. After dedicating himself to researching what God means in a scientific sense, he falls in love with a woman. His passion shifts to painting a portrait of her, but she inevitably betrays and leaves him. He begins losing his mind and doubles down on both of his priorities. Unfortunately, he can’t nail the portrait from memory or find God. He starts killing people and harvesting their brains to search for a deity. The portrait’s resemblance to his ex-lover fades and becomes more of an idealized version of her. It reaches the point where he doesn’t recognize her when they cross paths, only realizing her identity after killing her. He learns she was pregnant with his son and starts to hear his unborn child speaking to him. The infant convinces his dad God is in his brain, so the father cracks his skull open to release God. Family, are we right?

The Receiving End Of Sirens – The Earth Sings Mi Fa Mi

The Receiving End Of Sirens’ debut, Between The Heart And The Synapse, was very conceptual and open to multiple interpretations. Sophomore LP The Earth Sings Mi Fa Mi is only slightly less obtuse (a compliment here, by the way). It’s based on 16th-century astronomer Johannes Kepler’s theory that the planets produce different notes. Earth’s minor sixth (Mi) and Venus’ (Fa) results in the solar system singing the titular scale. Vocalist/guitarist Alex Bars added meaning to the music, theorizing that it stands for “Misery-Famine-Misery.” Is this more metaphysical or metaemotional?

A Lot Like Birds – No Place

Memories are a powerful thing and often are tied to senses. Certain smells can trigger déjà vu, so too can touching surfaces or seeing locations. A Lot Like Birds centered their third album, somewhat ironically named No Place, on the latter. It finds a character going through a former home room by room, song by song. The music was crafted to evoke the mood of each space. As one can imagine, this led to the gamut of emotions being expressed lyrically and musically.

La Dispute – Wildlife

We’re getting meta here. Wildlife is a collection of pieces written by an “author,” which were authored by La Dispute vocalist Jordan Dreyer. Got it? Good. The author is swimming in the aftermath of tragedy, compounded by his battles with mental illness. A theme of decay can run through it all: of towns, relationships, life and mind. It’s all told through letters, stories, poems or monologues. Despite being a work of fiction penned by an imaginary penman, it hits strikingly close to home, as art often does when lines are blurred.

Sworn In – The Lovers/The Devil

Sworn In helped pioneer the nü-metalcore sound that’s become so popular, though this album brings in more post-hardcore tendencies. The Lovers/The Devil is a cautionary tale of how not to do relationships. An obsessive romantic boy falls for a bitterly cold realist girl. The roles reverse when the former realizes the latter isn’t reciprocating, causing her to comprehend her mistake. It’s a tale as old as time.