The Letter Black initially became a contender in the Christian rock scene with spots on several major Christian tours, a record deal and their 2010 label debut Hanging On By A Thread. After another studio full-length (Rebuild) and some remix efforts, The Letter Black’s time on a record label came to a close a few years ago. After some time refocusing, they’re back at it with Pain, an album fueled by Kickstarter and EMP Label Group.
With Pain, The Letter Black has stated that they were unified in wanting to pursue a more metal-influenced sound. Opening track “Fear,” which creatively plays with elements that could belong to a horror film soundtrack, sees vocalist Sarah Anthony taking her usual crystal-clear tone and introducing low rasps and scratched screams. It’s this diversifying of her vocal range that most markedly separates this album from their past work, with later tracks like “I Am” and “Breathe” also showing off multiple vocal styles.
Musically, Mark Anthony’s guitar work gravitates towards a raw and grungy sound. The building guitars in “Pain” hit like a powerful punch to the chest. “Tear You Apart” harkens back to some of the best of the post-grunge style of the mid-2000s, with subtle symphonic elements complementing the full-bodied guitar riffs leading into a well-placed solo. Some of the darker progressive metal influences are evident through eerie, borderline discordant intros on both these tracks. Strong melodies hold fast through the whirlwind of guitars and drums, with songs like “Meant for You” offering soaring choruses familiar to The Letter Black fans.
Pain is an album packed with fight songs: anthems pushing back against the harmful opinions of others (as on lead single “The Last Day I Cared”) as well as against our own internal demons. One of the best in the latter category is “Kill the Devil,” a haunting rock epic in which some of the strongest screams on the album push back against addictions and struggles. The source of victory is made clear in “Alive,” a near-worshipful ballad singing out “I feel like I’m coming alive because of You.” Album closer “Holding On” summarizes the core message beautifully over a tasteful fusion of piano and toned-down guitars, declaring “I am barely holding on, but I won’t let go.”
Throughout the project, it’s evident that the group is still flexing their newfound heavier music muscles, working to develop the newfound dynamic of the vocals in particular. A sonic shift, even from one sub-genre to another within the broader spectrum of rock, is a massive creative undertaking, and in places the lyrics feel unusually simplified for the band as they focus on developing their sound. However, the confidence that infuses every track affirms that the steps forward Pain takes are definitely in the right direction.
Pain sees The Letter Black navigating into a heavier rock sound with a sense of renewed energy and intensity that lends fire to the lyrical themes of fighting back against anything preventing us from reaching hope. It’s a refreshingly raw and enjoyable listen, hopefully just the beginning of this next chapter of The Letter Black.
Related Artists: Flyleaf, Spoken, Korn