Detroit’s American Arson really impressed me with their full-length debut A Line in the Sand back in 2020, as their blend of hook driven alternative rock, rawer punk, and emotional post hardcore came together in ways that helped them to stand out from the pack. The duo had been around since 2014 released a trilogy of EP’s prior, but this album found them balancing aggression and softer melodies that really expanded their sound. For follow-up effort Sand & Cinder//Tide & Timber American Arson has once again pushed outward, opting for a trilogy of sorts through a suite of songs and pulling in more pop elements alongside a fuller production. The fact that they can seamlessly hop between so many styles remain impressive and results in some soaring peaks alongside some heavier moments, though I do miss some of the rawer edges of its predecessor.
Despite some simple sounding hooks on songs like “Run” and “Moonlight”, the shift towards some pop elements and a more accessible overall sound doesn’t mean that American Arson has pushed too far in the opposite direction. Opener “The Almighty Arsonist” makes that clear with moodier electronics that open up into pummeling guitar and drums that are genuinely heavy and fall somewhere between post hardcore and metalcore. From there the emphasis is on melodic hooks and soaring soundscapes, which are amplified by the more polished and fuller production values, but even on songs like “Low Tide” and “Arrowheads” there are sudden bursts of punk or metal elements. It’s a delicate balance, and you can tell that the duo has had more cinematic ambitions this time around based on how many of these tracks peak. Admittedly some of the pop rock leaning elements felt a little too generic to me and the second half stood out a bit more for my personal tastes, as this is where the best mix of heavy and melodic resides. “Gaslight” and “Hammer and Gavel” in particular are some of my favorites on the album, with the latter trading in some of A Line in the Sand’s rawer edge for sheer weight and metalcore tonality. “Blood” also is an effective closer, bringing back some of the alternative rock hooks alongside some post hardcore edges. The highlights outweigh some of the blander moments on the first half, and I do admire the ambition American Arson continues to show as all these different musical styles aren’t the easiest to jam together.
The vocals offer the same back and forth as the instrumentals, moving seamlessly from light and airier singing to rougher edged yelling and screaming that packs a punch. “The Almighty Arsonist” opts for the latter, introducing American Arson’s latest effort with a bang as the screams cut through the layers of sound. But only a minute later things transition over to singing that has a good deal of power behind it, with some slight breaks into yells that give off more of a punk sound. Sometimes you get a melodic punk or pop punk vibe, while other sections move towards pop or alternative rock, with “Hammer and Gavel” going full-on metalcore. There are a lot of small details to the vocal work, and when you combine this with the narrative concepts at work there’s plenty to discover across repeat listens.
American Arson has continued to grow and try different things, bringing in some more accessible hooks and pop leaning elements alongside their heavier foundation. Their sophomore full length has some of their best individual songs to date, but some bland moments on the first half made me feel like A Line in the Sand was just a bit more consistent from start to finish. It’s definitely close and some of that may come down to personal preference though, as even with the few lulls I’ve still spent a lot of time with this one over the past few days. Sand & Cinder//Tide & Timber is available from Facedown Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg