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With 2014’s Let The Ocean Take Me The Amity Affliction delivered a record that so perfectly encapsulated everything that defines them it was hard to imagine them ever besting it. That This Could Be Heartbreak surpasses it across the board is a truly humbling feat, though their longtime faithful are more than aware of their drive to keep pushing things ever forward, never releasing anything less than their absolute best. When vocalist Joel Birch describes it as the “darkest” release of their career he is not exaggerating, and featuring his most brutally honest lyrics to date the eleven tracks provide an unflinching snapshot of a man desperately consumed by alcoholism and depression. However, this description does not provide the whole picture, for it is also the Australian band’s most rousing, urgent, sonically rich and accomplished record to date. “When it comes to any record we go into making it with the mindset of just trying to write better songs than the last time,” states bassist / vocalist Ahren Stringer. “When you listen to this record you’ll be hearing a real rollercoaster of emotion and a true reflection of everything we’ve been trying to do throughout our career. We get better as songwriters, and for us it’s all about beating that last record. Which we did.”

 

Since their formation in Gympie, Queensland in 2003, the band - rounded out by drummer Ryan Burt and guitarist Dan Brown following the departure of founding guitarist Troy Brady in 2014 - have stuck to their guns. Without hesitation they have stayed true to their signature sound, refusing to alter it in line with the many fads that have come and gone since then, and in the process they have secured themselves an impassioned and devoted following. Their capacity for penning electrifying anthems, armed with some seriously metallic crunch, has turned mosh pits upside-down the world over, at the same time their fans profoundly connecting with Birch’s no-holds-barred confessionals. “It’s how I like to write and how I like to be, and I’ve always thought there’s no point doing music if it’s not either saying something that’s going to help people or going to be a really personal, cathartic experience,” the vocalist explains. Well aware that they faced a daunting task in following up Let The Ocean Take Me they did not flinch, and with the writing team of Stringer and Brown penning the music the songs came together naturally. “We added another piece of the puzzle when we got Dan on board in 2013, and the proof is in the punch in that he joined and then we wrote our best album yet,” Stringer says. “With us, it just flows naturally, we have a very similar musical mind, and the sound of this record is much more mature. Last time we went really heavy with the keys, but this time we’ve stripped that back more and kept it as a more atmospheric element while we focused on making the guitars as big and rich as possible.” The result speaks for itself. Opener “I Bring The Weather With me” is almost impossibly huge, the more downbeat “All Fucked Up” as frail as it is soaring, and in the likes of “Tearing Me Apart” and “Fight My Regret” they have constructed anthems that are equally haunting and exciting. “I think we nailed it with every song, but I believe the title track is our finest hour,” enthuses Stringer, the song starting with an almost poppy rock riff and shifting through a massive yet understated chorus with a titanic breakdown dropping the hammer. “It’s my favorite song that we’ve ever written, and it reflects everything we were trying to do throughout the album.” Re-teaming with producer Will Putney, This Could Be Heartbreak was tracked at Melbourne’s Holes and Corners with additional drum tracking done at Sing Sing Studios, and the relationship forged during the making of Let The Ocean Take Me ensured that the whole process was as genial as it was productive. “Will is a great friend of ours and we work really well with him. We can trust him with everything we do, there are barely ever any disagreements so it’s really a fun, easy time, and we couldn’t be happier. I imagine we’ll be working with him for a lot longer,” Stringer states. Adding an extra dimension to the band’s sound, they worked with three professional singers to build a “choir”, pitching them at different harmonies and scales and then “layering it up to make what sounds like a room full of angels”, who feature on “I Bring The Weather With Me” and “All Fucked Up”, while members of Stray From The Path and Stick To Your Guns also contribute to the choral elements of the title track. However, anyone thinking they did likewise on the bridge of “Fight My Regret” might be surprised to learn that it is solely the work of Stringer. “It sounds pretty full on, and a bit “Bohemian Rhapsody”-ish because you’ve got layers and layers of harmonies that I sang, and then I’m singing over the top of that.”

 

As powerful as the record is musically, as with all of The Amity Affliction’s releases Birch’s contributions provide the beating heart. As most fans are aware, 2010’s Youngbloods was written following a suicide attempt, while Let The Ocean Take Me was informed by a near-death experience Joel survived while The Amity Affliction were part of 2013’s Warped Tour. Following a seizure brought on by acute alcohol withdrawal, his heart stopped beating, and had he not been discovered in this state he would have not survived. Recovering from this, he was confronted with the damage he was doing not only to himself but to those around him, and the record gave him an opportunity to exorcise the demons that had been plaguing him. But, as is often the case for people who suffer depression, they did not stay away long, and unbeknownst to those closest to him he was falling apart. “Life was getting better and better outwardly as the band got bigger and more successful around the world, and worse and worse internally, and I completely fell back into the behavior that led to what happened on Warped. It only gets worse every time you go back to it, and it got much, much worse for me,” he says with typical candor. That this coincided with the writing of a new record, and impending fatherhood, did not help the situation. Admitting he recorded the album drunk, and that in the midst of tracking it he was compelled to contact a suicide prevention hotline, when he was in the recording booth he worked line by line. Focusing his energies on each one, he imbued the words with the sincere feeling behind them, but it was only in hindsight, when hearing a rough mix of the album for the first time, that he realized how dire the situation was. “I was listening to them and I was crying. I was like what the fuck? What’s going on here? I really need to do something about this. For someone that’s got depression it’s really playing with fire to drink all the time, and I was making everything worse.” With the opening one-two of “I Bring The Weather With Me” and the title track, Birch says goodbye – referencing Nick Cave’s “The Weeping Song” in the former, which has always been a song he wants played at his funeral. With every track that follows he provides the reasons for letting go, culminating with the desolate bleakness of “Blood In My Mouth”, which makes for a harrowing yet utterly compelling listening. The fact that that Birch is far less metaphorical only adds to the emotional impact. “You can draw a lot of imagery from the lyrics, it’s a mentally visual record, but at the same time there’s a lot less bullshit. I’m not mincing my words so much, I’m telling you what I’m feeling, what I’m going through.”

 

Following completion of This Could Be Heartbreak and the emotional collapse born of realizing just how desperate a situation he was in, Birch started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. With the support of his wife and bandmates he began rebuilding, and he is proud of the songs he wrote, and how they have helped turn his life around. With his newborn son giving him a new perspective on life he also feels more optimistic than he ever has before. “I’ve never been one to look far ahead, just because I didn’t think I’d be alive. Now I’m really just open to all the positive things that life can bring you, I’m really taking stock of it and what it means moving forward. I’m learning how to appreciate what I’ve got, which I wasn’t before.” Having always had a unique connection with the band’s followers, many of whom message him with their personal stories of struggles with mental illness, he hopes that This Could Be Heartbreak will be able to offer a sense of catharsis to listeners similar to that which he derives from it. “I think it’s good for people to realize that someone they look up to is going through the same shit they are, at the end of the day. I’m not removed from them, I’m prone to the exact same problems they have and experience the same gamut of emotion. None of us are alone in this.”

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