Planes Mistaken For Stars has emo skeletons in the closet of its roaring post-punk house, but the records it's released since debuting on The Moment Of Truth: The Emo Diaries, Chapter Three in 1999 have ground those skeletons' bones into dust. The Colorado band has spent the past six years or so crafting a thoroughly menacing hybrid of punk, hardcore, and straight-up rock 'n' roll. The new Mercy (Abacus) sets the tone quickly with "One Fucked Pony," and barely relents thereafter. Vocalist-guitarist Gared O'Donnell sounds best when slightly buried in the mix; when his rasp is more prominent (as on "Pony" and "Crooked Mile"), it gets too close to Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead… A-
A Static Lullaby doesn't have any emo skeletons—they're still covered in flesh and quite alive on the new A Static Lullaby (Fearless). The group's career serves as a mini-history of second-wave screamo: growing buzz in 2001 (as the genre picked up speed), successful indie release in 2003 (when the world took notice), aborted major-label stint in 2005 (when the mainstream rejected these bands), resurrection in Indiedom in 2006 (where support remains strong). Full of the genre's signifiers—punk-metal-hardcore fusion, screamed/sung vocals, huge guitars, poppy interludes—A Static Lullaby does nothing to distinguish the band from the hordes of sound-alikes… D
On the opposite extreme, no other band sounds like Converge, which expertly blends hardcore, punk, metal, and experimental noise into a sound that can only be described as "assaulting" (in the best way possible). The band made its name playing that mélange at hyper-speed atop Jacob Bannon's larynx-shredding vocals, but Converge showed its skill with mood on 2004's You Fail Me. The trend continues on No Heroes (Epitaph), which mixes Converge's singular mayhem ("Hellbound") with slow-burners like "Grim Heart / Black Rose," where Bannon even sings. (Over-sings, unfortunately.) As usual, the result is thoroughly engrossing… A
After 2000's amazing Astray, Samiam basically ended its decade-plus career. But resurgent interest—in Europe, of all places—forced a reunion of the Bay Area melodic-punk group (though vocalist Jason Beebout and guitarist Sergie Loobkoff are the only remaining original members). Unsurprisingly, the new Whatever's Got You Down (Hopeless) seems half-baked; the overall mix sounds unbalanced and spiky, and Beebout's dry vocals don't help. Still, Samiam has never lost the ability to write a good song, and Whatever's Got You Down has its share, particularly "Holiday Parade" and "Storm Clouds."