I distinctly remember when Dogs, the last release of new material from The Great White North’s own Alexisonfire came out; I remember being so stoked at how raw and aggressive and downright nasty it was and being so excited for what could possibly come next from that EP. Well, what came next was a breakup and very little else for years on end. Then came 2019, new material and the hope of a new full-length release, but even then, it still took a few more years to get to this point. But here we are. Otherness is more than just an exercise in cashing in on the hype of reforming after a long absence; it is a mission statement and a path forward.
What is there to say about Alexisonfire that hasn’t already been said? There are some who say (rightfully, in my opinion) that they almost single-handedly put Canadian post-hardcore on the map in 2002 with their self-titled debut, and it only got better from there. As far as I’m concerned, Crisis and Watch Out! are some of the best examples of mid-aughts post-hardcore out there. Old Crows/Young Cardinals saw the band push themselves into much darker and more experimental territory, but then, barring the aforementioned Dogs, there was not much from the fivesome for quite a long time. So, then, why now? Says lead vocalist George Petit, “As much as we love playing the old songs, we don’t want to be a nostalgia act. The only reason to come back is if we feel we still have something to say…We all carved new paths for ourselves, so coming back to Alexisonfire is a purely enjoyable creative venture. Something special happens when we get in a room together.” Longtime fans of the band will rejoice that the lineup on Otherness is the same lineup as from Crisis onward, the first appearance of drummer Jordan Hastings. That means that Wade MacNeil and Dallas Green are in their rightful spots of guitar and co-lead vocals (yes, for those not in the know that’s three lead vocalists) and Chris Steele is still holding down the fort on bass. “We were all really thrilled to make a record, and it was such a respite from what was going on in the world. It felt like life could be beautiful,” MacNeil says. “We were supportive of one another. Everyone was in such a good mood. It was such a treat to be able to do it again.”
Otherness feels like the perfect successor to OC/YC. It honestly feels like the band hasn’t missed a single step, like the last 10+ years went by in an instant. That’s not to say this is an exercise in repeating the past: this is the least post-hardcore and most experimental the band has ever been, but they retain all the qualities that make them both wholly unique and a Canadian powerhouse. Petit’s roar is just as powerful and ferocious as ever, backed up by MacNeil’s gruff barks and the booming rhythm section of Steele and Hastings. And it must be said, as someone who is both a massive fan of Alexisonfire and City and Colour, hearing Dallas Green’s voice always feels like a warm pair of sweatpants fresh out of the dryer, even if they’re layered over beefy riffs and monster drums. Otherness sees the band trade in the punky aggression that dominated their pre-breakup sound for layers of slithering riffs and mid-tempo stomps, mixed with plenty of spacey melodies and borderline-psychedelic keyboards. Without gravitating towards the ~maturity~ cliché, Otherness shows that the members have all been active and exploring during the time away. What Otherness might forego in aggression and urgency it makes up for by deeply exploring space and texture, allowing each musical idea to fully play itself out before introducing new ones. Of course, there are still a couple of hardcore bops to let everyone know this is still the same Alexisonfire that put out “Boiled Frogs.” “Unconditional Love” and “Reverse the Curse” go just as hard as anything else in their career, but they are interspersed with so many other different feels and sound collages that they retain their unique place on the album instead of blending in with everything else. The flow of Otherness is top-notch, and it really manages to capture where these people are at this moment in time, while still retaining their defining characteristics.
“A continuous thread through the fabric of Alexisonfire is the state of otherness. Otherness drew us all to spaces where a band like this could be formed. We attract the type of individuals that have all felt the sensation of being strange or unique. Perceived or otherwise, otherness has followed us through childhood, adolescence, and into our adult lives. It drives our tastes and proclivities. It bonds us with ourselves and others. And make no mistake, even at our most domestic and mundane moments, we are true outliers.” That’s the band’s mission statement on Otherness, and it couldn’t come at a more opportune moment. We are all people who desire to be seen as unique individuals and to find a way to stand out from the pack. We need more music that celebrates that otherness, and in that respect Otherness shines. But mostly, I’m just so goddamn happy that it’s finally happening, and that Otherness exceeded my expectations for this joyous return.