The Casket Lottery
No Sleep Records
While some things get better with age, it’s hard to say if that axiom always holds true for 90’s emo and post-hardcore bands. In a genre so driven by teen angst and frustration, it’s often difficult to retain the energy and intensity of youth well into your 30’s. From a fan’s perspective, it’s also difficult not to allow some amount of apprehension to set in when such a band makes a return after a lengthy hiatus. Given the number of recent reunions that have (rightly or wrongly) taken criticism for being halfhearted attempts to reclaim former glory, it’s enough to make even a once-legendary act a bit nervous.
However, if The Casket Lottery was at all worried about what their first record since 2004’s four song EP Smoke And Mirrors was going to sound like, it certainly doesn’t show on Real Fear. Similar to what Coalesce accomplished with OX in 2009, (with whom The Casket Lottery share guitarist and vocalist Nathan Ellis, who plays bass with the influential metalcore act, as well as drummer Nathan Richardson and founding bassist Stacy Hilt), the band has emerged from a long slumber with what is arguably the strongest record of their career. It retains the driving Midwestern emo grit that established them as an influential act over a decade ago without sounding like a desperate grab to cash in on their former glory, while also fitting right at home with the current No Sleep roster.
This is no small feat, and it’s impressive how current this record manages to sound while staying true to the band’s established style. It could just be the kids today have caught up with what The Casket Lottery was doing years ago, but this record would not be out of place in between your Balance And Composure and Tigers Jaw LPs, nor your Small Brown Bike and Get Up Kids records. Real Fear deserves points as well for having no glaringly weak songs; this is a solidly played record from start to finish that sees the band benefiting from their years of experience.
Rather than grow stale in their time off, it seems as though the band has picked up a few new tricks since they’ve been gone. There are moments on Real Fear that are almost straight up creepy sounding, like the opening organ stabs on “Poor Dorian” and dissonant melodic guitar lines in “Pamina,” while the keyboards in “The Moon And The Tide” introduce an almost 80’s pop feel.
For the most part though, Real Fear is about what one would expect in a new record from The Casket Lottery. Bass-heavy riffs create a solid foundation for winding guitar interplay and emotive vocals that pack a measured, reserved intensity. It’s a gripping listen, and it’s almost surprising how catchy a lot of these songs manage to be without going overtly pop. Producer Ed Rose lends the record his trademark rawness and warmth, which further contributes to the record’s classic vibe.
“Blood On The Handle” and “In The Branches” open the record with a one-two punch that should be immediately familiar to anyone who initially got into the band through records like Survival Is For Cowards or Moving Mountains. The towering power chord riffs in “Ghost Whiskey” sound positively triumphant, and are interestingly juxtaposed against low-key verses carried primarily by a driving bass, sparse guitars, and subtle keys. Its follow up, “Baptistina,” follows a similar dynamic, and what sound like fairly straightforward songs reveal themselves to be anything but upon closer inspection. This is a band that has mastered the art of deceptive complexity, and to their credit, this is a mark of solid songwriting.
On Real Fear, The Casket Lottery have managed to grow their sound in interesting ways without abandoning their identity. Continuing to build and improve upon what they helped pioneer over a decade ago, it would be a shame if this record doesn’t help the band broaden their audience and gain the level of recognition they’ve always deserved. If you’ve ever in your life had a soft spot for 90’s emo and post-hardcore, then this is a more than solid effort that is well worth your time.