Singer and guitarist Jim Ward pronounced the third album of his post-At-the-Drive-In incarnation Sparta "the darkest thing I've ever done without being depressing." Unfortunately, Ward is optimistic. The album depresses, mainly because the darkness sucked the compelling indie-rock gusto out of him. Prior recordings from Ward, drummer Tony Hajjar, guitarist Paul Hinojos, and bassist Matt Miller mined the post-hardcore aesthetic of Quicksand into powerful, convincing emo rock. But with the departure of Hinojos and the addition of Keeley Davis, heavy guitar hooks and frenetic energy are replaced by lackluster melodies and repetitive structure that sound weighted down and forced. Anthemic call-to-arms single "Taking Back Control" and the spiraling guitar intro of "Erase It Again" show explosiveness, but the pained vocals, acoustic-guitar strumming, and spacey effects in "Atlas" and "Unstitch Your Mouth" wander into Radiohead terrain without the payoff. The members of Sparta cannot sum up whatever intense emotions they're trying to convey, and eventually rely on the soulful melisma of singer Merry Clayton in the Pink Floyd-inspired closer "Translations." Dark days, indeed.


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