Album Review: Touché Amoré – Lament

[Epitaph; 2020]

Touché Amoré’s last album was 2016’s Stage Four, an album that saw them rise indisputably to the top of the most beloved bands in the modern American post-hardcore scene. It was a position they’d been approaching with each successive record, as they gradually honed the dynamic and visceral balance between their impactful musicianship and singer Jeremy Bolm’s heart-on-sleeve screaming. But, their fourth album came to be much bigger than they could have anticipated due to its deeply personal content: Bolm reflecting on the loss of his mother to cancer with self-lacerating honesty. By staring into the abyss and bringing it out into the light on Stage Four, Touché Amoré connected more deeply and more widely than ever. But where do you go from there?

Simply enough, Bolm spends fifth album Lament largely reflecting on the changes in his life recently, and on the new dimensions of strain and responsibility that come with placing yourself as a conduit to people’s grief. Obviously, this is not quite as savagely painful as the content of Stage Four, so instead Touché Amoré seem to have tried to make up for this shortfall in impact by working for the first time with producer Ross Robinson, best known for piling on the decibels with the likes of Korn, Glassjaw, and Slipknot. But, perhaps because it better suits the lyrical content, Lament is not the harsh noise monster that might be expected from this team up. In fact, it’s turned out to be the band’s most accessible album yet.  

“I’m softer now,” Bolm sings on album opener “Come Heroine” – a tribute to his long-term partner who has helped keep him steady in recent years. Yep, a straight up love song. It’s no bad thing to be soft, though, and Robinson and the band have developed their sound in such a way that honours both their hardcore roots and the placidity of their fast-approaching 40s. The guitars have a finessed edge, smoothed to be melodic and loud, but not thunderous as they used to be. Similarly, Elliott Babin’s drumming is just as riotous as ever, but even at full volume they won’t punch you in the eardrums as it once did. Heck, Nick Steinhardt even plays pedal steel on a couple of tracks and it sounds perfectly at home.

Bolm has understandably found it difficult to adjust to singing about his mother’s death every night and having people come up to him to express just how much it means to them and how it helped them process their own losses. “I’ll Be Your Host” is the most direct tackling of this, with him confessing “I don’t want this role, I give it up / But that’s not enough,” and the feeling is so raw that it’s hard not to squirm. Other emotional rollercoasters include “Savoring”, where he expresses devotion to his partner as he vacillates between peace and panic, and the band matches by flipping between quicksilver punk and thunderous hardcore with stunning fluidity. Meanwhile, on the glimmering blunderbuss that is “Limelight”, he takes a turn for the more poetic to work through a complex melange of feelings about loss of his dogs, his struggles with managing his moods, and, once again, thankfulness for his partner for standing firm through it all.

Other songs like “Feign” and “A Broadcast” also clue us into his precarious mentality, but aren’t quite as moving due to their more round-about approach, both musically and lyrically. Bolm is busting his own balls throughout Lament, to the point where sometimes you feel like he’s trying overly hard to squeeze angst out of a situation. “Exit Row” is a prime example of this, finding him observing his artistic difficulty and even admitting that he’s trying too hard when he sings, “I dragged my body to the desert’s end / to mine for words in this abandoned head.”

A couple of highlights come when Bolm lightens up – just a little. On “Reminders”, Touché Amoré are dead-ahead in their approach, writing an almost-radio-friendly anthem about needing to be reminded of the silver linings in a world of gloom – something we can all relate to in our own ways. Final track “A Forecast” is where we get to see Bolm most clearly, as it starts as simple piano while he unguardedly catches us up with what he’s been up to (he’s been getting into jazz and re-affirming his love for the Coen Brothers). He even tells a joke where, for once, he isn’t the butt of it: “I’ve lost more family members / Not to cancer but the GOP.” It’s a refreshing loosening of the scrunched-gut emotion that’s been rife throughout Lament, and when the band does kick in for the grand finale, it feels like a joyous fireworks display rather than an overwrought pummelling.

In many ways, Lament feels like a transitional album for Touché Amoré. They’re now navigating the waters of fame outside of their home scene, and simultaneously dealing with growing older. The cyclical self-criticism displayed by Bolm can sometimes make it feel like listening in on a therapy session – but Touché Amoré’s music has been therapy for many over the years. Undoubtedly, for those people, Lament will be another great tool and guide for coping with this grey existence – especially when we’ll all eventually get to revel in it together and heal as one.