You could call it a moment of clarity. The Word Alive finished up their last headline tour in support of 2014’s Real., and the band members—Tyler “Telle” Smith [lead vocals], Zack Hansen [lead guitar], Tony Pizzuti [rhythm guitar], Daniel Shapiro [bass], and Luke Holland [drums]—collectively agreed on one thing.
“We needed to come together and make an album that all of us were totally proud of, or this wasn’t worth doing,” admits Telle. “It was a turning point. We needed to believe in the next body of work unanimously. In order for us to believe, everything had to feel bigger. The melodies needed to be stronger. The lyrics had to be more personal. We had to get more creative. Most importantly, the songs had to be the best we’d ever written.”
This approach yielded the group’s fourth full-length album, Dark Matter [Fearless Records]. In many ways, the Phoenix, AZ heavy alternative quintet started at ground zero, wiping the proverbial slate clean. For the first time, they wrote together in the studio, instead of individually bringing ideas to the table. They tapped the production and engineering talents of From First To Last guitarist Matt Good: another first. They also ventured outside the box by recording vocals before drums, so their signature instrumental virtuosity could augment and accent the lyrical delivery. All of these elements supported their primary goal.
“In the past, everything was disconnected and done piecemeal,” he goes on. “This is the first time where we were truly collaborating and helping each other. It wasn’t about egos or worrying about what’s popular. We knew that if someone had a suggestion, it was because he had the song’s best interest in mind. Everybody had to agree, so we were all way more honest. We’ve become closer friends than ever. Every aspect of our band is better because we embraced this new mentality.”
The music speaks for itself. The first single “Trapped” begins with an entrancing electronic hum before converging on a thick wall of guitars and hypnotic bass line. Telle’s breathy verses build into an unshakable refrain that proves immediately and instantly chantable.
“It’s about someone struggling with drugs, alcohol, and pretty much every abusive thing you can do to yourself,” the vocalist explains. “It fucks with your head and makes you lose control of who you are.”
Elsewhere, the title track weaves together an airy guitar and polyrhythmic chug punctuated by a gnashing scream and mind-bending percussion. “It basically follows a dude who’s crazy,” he continues. “He feels like he’s done everything wrong in his life. Every time he tries to do something good, he can’t break away from his bad habits. It’s something a lot of kids deal with.”
Dark Matter concludes with the epic swell of “Oxy” where Telle’s voice takes center stage over an inviting and intricate soundscape.
“I tried to tell stories here,” he says. “I’d never really done that before. ’Oxy’ is about a person overdosing and becoming trapped between life and death. He looks back and sees the effect his tragic suicide had on others. The pervading feeling is regret. Maybe people realize this isn’t the answer, and there is hope.”
The Word Alive began transmitting their message in 2009. 2010’s full-length Deceiver solidified them as a fan favorite as they tirelessly toured alongside the likes of Killswitch Engage, The Devil Wears Prada, A Day To Remember, Motionless In White, and more—in addition to numerous stints on the Vans Warped Tour. Alternative Press and Revolver have sung their praises. Modern Drummer featured Luke for his work in the band and his mega-popular YouTube covers. Guitar World has spotlighted the interplay between Tony and Zack and their twin attack. 2014 saw Real. land at #4 on Billboard’s Top Hard Rock Albums Chart, #7 on the Top Independent Albums Chart, and #33 on the Top 200. However, everything paved the way for The Word Alive’s biggest, boldest, and bravest statement in Dark Matter.
“I want people to hear this album and forget what they think The Word Alive is or we should be and just appreciate what we’ve become,” Telle concludes. “This is a special moment for us. Dark Matter is who we are.”