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Stolas defies overwhelming odds, releases encapsulating self-titled album

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"Stolas" album art/Equal Vision Records

"Stolas" album art/Equal Vision Records

A lineup change, a broken transmission

There’s a lot to say about a band that goes to their brink. In the dangerous crossroads between preserving a body fresh without its head or letting it all die, Stolas released a reflection, a tempered, rediscovered soul.

From the ashes of a creature struggling to stay alive, they created a being that strikes the strongest when backed into a corner. The album is a flowing progression of potent ups and downs filled with brilliant transitions through a lush new world. It couldn’t have been given a better name than a self-titled. After their van’s transmission broke, the band had to cancel an entire lineup of tours. After plans to record the album in Sacramento fell through, it began to feel as if Stolas was close to dying.

A last minute miracle from producer Mike Watts prompted a cross-country trip from Nevada to New York in order to create an album the world seemed intent to keep from ever being born. And yet, “Stolas” was created. Truly an underdog story within a feast of emotions.

Fluid creative genius from each member shows the band has tempered their musical and personal bonds. In response to the exit of former vocalist Jason Weiche, Stolas needed to find a tasteful new way to scream. The vibrant and sharpened instrumentation has filled this vacancy with the intellectual overdrive Stolas has become known for. The band has surmounted their tribulations and created the best album to date, rippling with intense, satisfying moments.

“Stolas” is a victory song that glistens with poignancy from every pore of its diverse, 10-song body. It sets the backdrop of a mystifying world filled with musical flora and fauna, teeming with life and dynamic that gives illustrative bands like Closure in Moscow and Polyphia a run for their money. The structure flits between simple and unorthodox — the favorite surprise out of left field being the second chorus we get in the superstar track, “Cold & Unmanageable.”

Filled to the brim with rich context like an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, “Stolas” is an album that asserts itself as a singular piece of art with a cornucopia of variation. It was like listening to Circa Survive’s “Blue Sky Noise” again for the first time — the joy of seeing a near-flawless album wax and wane from the picturesque introduction to the first track “Anhedonia” to the chirping farewells of “Metempsychosis.”

Out of nowhere, sudden and explosive guitar melodies created sonic kingdoms out of thin air. The listener becomes encompassed in a sphere of golden glow as the lower guitar line emerges in “Cold & Unmanageable.” Exhaling ghosts, coiling snakes and floating stones are but a few of the images that shine through to me throughout the album thanks to the complex, intricate instrumentation.

Guitar wizardry worthy of Santana’s mention cleanses the palate with earth-scorching power through most the album, particularly in the middle between “Anecdoche” and “Euphoria.” The four-song span will have you holding your breath.

With distinct and jaw-dropping tones thrown into the mix, dozens of moments happened where paralyzing bliss would creep onto my face and stick preposterously for minutes, just like how Mom used to warn about.

This album’s strongest point is that it’s able to operate on an emotional volume as well as it does through sound. When dealing with a special level of instrumental fluency across a band, the nuance of emotional connection becomes a language to speak that Stolas has become fluent in. The plethora of powerful imagery, from morose prayers to fields of neon-painted trees make for an untold number of musical and rhythmic colors.

In similar fashion to Sianvar’s “Stay Lost,” “Stolas” is the culmination of every member working at a creative full throttle. The result is a dense and varied journey across loud blips of the emotional spectrum.

The star of this show to me is the emerging prodigy of Led Zeppelin-esque caliber Sergio Medina. Picking battles between intricate riffs and emotional hard-hitters, Medina has created a balance between sixteenth note backgrounds and debilitating 10-second solos. The heart-melting vibrato of Sergio’s solo in “Damage Division” brought me to abrupt tears the first time I heard it, and the confounding speed Medina flutters across the fretboard in the same song becomes an enthralling, appropriate background.

To put it in layman’s terms, Medina is a guitarist that can do both.  

The lows of this album are soft conjurations of emotions we prefer to leave in the corner —  self-worth, addiction and the anxiety behind our purpose are put to the front through vocalist and drummer, Carlo Marquez.

The maximums of this album are a summer meadow gone nuclear. Stolas has always been a band to me that pulls out the stops and roars its loudest. Blistering solos and sprawling melodic canvasses do a better job than previous works at sustaining their intensity. The instrumentation comes across clearer than the dark parts of “Allomaternal,” and the underwhelming transitions in “Living Creatures” are a thing of the past.

The bassist of Stolas, RJ Reynolds, is a force to be reckoned with in an oft-forgotten element. Reynolds goes beyond the foundation of songs from the bottom up to generate sizzling hype and emotional suspense, one of my new favorite drugs in modern post-hardcore. The songs where bass shines are the opposite of ungainly, the narrative closes in around the plucky notes to keep things weightlessly moving. The most satisfying of “Bellwether’s” punches come from Reynolds breathing life into the tempo, supplementing the shattering power of many of the power moments of the song and the album.

Marquez has been a vocal feature in previous albums, but in “Stolas” has been dedicated to a revered position in post-hardcare — the sacred and arduous drummer/singer title. Marquez dominates the high register with pliant, tenacious texture. It’s like if somebody took the Benedict Cumberbatch vibes out of Tilian Pearson’s early work and put it a tad lower on the vocal register.

When Marquez dips into the lower register, a part of the resonance fades and a portion of the magic shies away from the song. Expanding the air capacity to support a stronger bottom line would be a wise step for Marquez to further develop his vocal talents. For a debut performance behind the mic, Marquez does an incredibly satisfying job and blows expectations out of the water.

I felt as if the penultimate song, “Pacesetter,” was a duller song out of the explosive repertoire. Marquez’s low-register singing here was a little underwhelming, and the end of the chorus seemed a tad rough. The guitar rhythm, while sizzling, doesn’t preserve itself as well through repetition as those in “Euphoria” or “Catalyst.” The closing minute of the song, however, is very tight.

“Stolas” is riddled with power moments. The instrumentation is tighter and cleaner than ever. Even without screams, the band manages to preserve contagious, maddening energy in a way only Stolas can.

My favorite songs off of this album are “Bellwether,” “Anecdoche,” “Cold & Unmanageable,” “Catalyst” and “Euphoria.” Don’t sleep on that middle chunk.

I’d give “Stolas” an 8.8 out of 10. For folks who enjoy feeling their music, this album is a delicacy.

Email Fitzgerald at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @DrMessBDSD.

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The digital-first, student-run magazine of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Journalism Department
Stolas defies overwhelming odds, releases encapsulating self-titled album