As Cities Burn have evolved quite a bit over the years. That is not to say that there has been a drastic change in sound or members, but when their first full length (titled Son, I Loved You At Your Darkest) came out in 2005 it appealed to the angry and directionless kid that I was at the time. They sounded like a more authentic Underoath, thrashing about with chaotic guitar lines and messy screaming but never really losing their sense of melody. As time went on, my love for the genre had rusted and become much less. However, with the loss of main vocalist/screamer TJ Bonette, the band had continued on towards a very different sound, while keeping what made them interesting in first place. The sound had become deeper and more solidified, with lyrics that wrestle with faith primarily. Come Now Sleep is about imperfection; guitarist/vocalist Cody Bonette bares his soul in a way that speaks to the listener with an urgency. This is not worship music; this is instead music that forces you to look at the ugly side of faith that comes with growing up.
“Contact” opens this album up and quickly deviates from the previous album’s style. The listener is immediately hit with atmospheric chimes and a slow, deliberate guitar line. The lyrics that begin this beautifully heartbreaking song are as follows:
Hearts aren’t really our guides.
We are truly alone.
‘Cause God ain’t up in the sky,
Holding together our bones.
Remember we used to speak.
Now I’m starting to think,
Your voice was really my own,
Bouncing off the ceiling back to me.
These doubtful lyrics are powerful and speak to the inner human that cries out against the perfection of God, and ultimately make this one of the best songs on the album. The minimalist backing instruments that begin this song slowly start to swell into a distorted wall of guitars and drums, then taper off to a lone acoustic guitar in which Bonette intones, “If there’s a God, then he must be asleep”. The weariness in his voice as he repeats it over and over add a level of intimacy that you would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. This time around, As Cities Burn have decided to adopt a more natural song structure, moving effortlessly from a heavily-distorted sound to slower, more ethereal passages. This is best exemplified in “The Hoard”, as halfway through the song the guitars wind down and reveal a moment of drums and bass shining through. The vocals start to shine towards the end as the guitars pick back up and Cody’s passionate scream fades out, effectively ending another stand-out track.
With as many positives that surround this album for me, there are a few things that do detract from the overall effect of the album. As the album goes on, the tracks become a bit less varied and memorable. This certainly sounds like the transition album for As Cities Burn, as one can tell that they are trying to find their sound. There is a vast amount of experimentation that deviates from anything that they had released prior to this, which allows for some things to stick and others to not work as much. “New Sun” and “Our World Is Grey” overstay their welcome, without adding any essential pieces to the album as a whole. “Tides” adds a much-needed catchy chorus and the album closer, “Timothy” rips open the band’s heartstrings in a way that is a perfect ending. This particular song is about the suicide of a friend, and the bare honesty in the lyrics are too difficult to ignore. This album is all about passion and authenticity, and it truly shows here. When Cody screams, “Tell me I’m only dreaming, tell me I’m just sleeping”, you hear the anguish and pain in his voice.
As Cities Burn have crafted an album that is incredibly dark thematically, while keeping it atmospheric enough for listeners to breathe. With the heavy and personal subject matter taken on in the album, it has allowed me personally to relate. In a world full of doubt, sometimes it’s easier to find solace in solitude; that is what this album does, in a perfectly imperfect way.