When As Cities Burn’s debut album ‘Son I Loved You At Your Darkest’ was released, it came at a time where heavy, alternative Christian bands were on the rise. The likes of Underoath, Norma Jean, Showbread – basically anything on Tooth & Nail or Solid State Records in the early 2000s – wowed us with their heaviness, yet melodic sides as well.
Being an unbeliever, I never cared much for the lyrical messages in any of these bands, but something common with all of these Christian bands was that every one of them had so much passion in their music. Something about following a cause gave each one of them purpose and it’s an effect that made their music addictive and well worth pursuing.
‘Son I Loved You At Your Darkest’ is, for me at least, the most intensely passionate and thought-provoking album of that era and still manages to reduce me to an emotional puddle when I play it now. It’s such a special album because it not only provides some unquestionably incredible post-hardcore songs, but it made me challenge and change my musical perspective. It did so in a way that changed how I listened to music forever.
I’ve always been a real stickler for vocals. Vocals are definitely a deal-breaker for me and when I first heard this album I wasn’t sure I could handle Cody Bonnette’s fragile, shaky voice that seemed to waver in and out of tune at will. I was used to tightly produced, shiny post-hardcore that had crisp, clear notes and perfectly tunes voices. I nearly gave up on As Cities Burn because I wasn’t sure I could handle the rawness of it all. The biggest offender was ‘The Widow’, a seemingly out of place slow tune that never really takes off and has some of the shakiest vocals on the record. It was all too much. But then I opened the lyric booklet and played it again.
With context, ‘The Widow’ is no longer a half-arsed song that’s song half-well, it’s one of the most vulnerable and emotionally transparent songs I’ve ever heard. The bravery of a musician to step up to a microphone and let you in to the darkest recesses of their life should never be overlooked and it made me re-evaluate not only the album, but my whole perspective on music. I stopped caring about the quality of every note. If anything it made me critical of those bands that had super-tight production and no emotion in their delivery – did they even mean what they were singing?
As well as emotional power, there’s plenty of instrumental power on this record too. Mike selected ‘Admission Regret’ to cover and it’s a personal favourite of mine too – it’s brutal, but beautiful and that’s this band all over. ‘Love Jealous One, Love’ and ‘One: Twentyseven’ are just as neck-shattering and carry as much quality in the song-writing as there is in the instrumentation.
There’s no doubt that without As Cities Burn – without this record in particular – I’d never have fallen deeply in love with melodic hardcore and the rawest of post-hardcore and for that I’m eternally grateful to this band. Bands that have succeeded them – Hotel Books, Casey, Crooks, Being as an Ocean, the list goes on – continue to push the integrity and honest presentation that As Cities Burn instilled within me.
After ‘Son I Loved You At Your Darkest’, the band changed their sound (and line-up) to be more indie-alternative. It was a massive shift but Cody Bonette still retained the raw honesty in his delivery, making ‘Come Now Sleep’ and ‘Hell or High Water’ equally powerful and memorable. The whole back catalogue of this band is well worth checking out if you haven’t already.