Midwestern post-metal band Hands released their swan song, Give Me Rest, in 2011. The group’s magnum opus, a quick look at its liner notes revealed that Hands — at least on record — had evolved into a solo project for frontman and songwriter Shane Ochsner. All the better for it, with that album, the musician (along with producer Josh Barber) had created a starry-eyed concept album of existential angst that remains one of Facedown Records’ key releases.
Ochsner keeps making these types of records, and they keep getting better. Retiring the prehensile moniker directly after Give Me Rest, he resumed his faithful foray into idealistic metalcore and prog-rock evensong the following year. Rechristened as Everything in Slow Motion, the renewed outfit dropped their first full-length album, Phoenix, in 2013. Delivering on Hands’ crowning achievement, EISM’s debut LP offered a celestially supercharged serving of Ochsner’s spiritual wanderlust.
Phoenix, along with My Epic’s ambitious Behold (released on the same day in 2013), represented one of the most wide-reaching and genre-confounding issues by punk/metal music pillar Facedown Records. In a year that broke the mold for the prolific hardcore label, both records peaked in the Top 20 of Billboard’s Heatseekers chart. Now, two-and-a-half years since the rise of Phoenix, fans have been clamoring for another album from EISM.
Instead, EISM has opted for a smaller portion size with Laid Low, a five-song EP. Ochsner conjures a brooding continuance of what he does best — questioning existence and probing regret via modern rock vespers. The songs are just as poignant and tightly-wound as any on Phoenix; the effort’s brevity is its main flaw. Again matching My Epic, who also released a five-song follow-up this year, one surmises this is merely a stopgap to the inevitable sophomore Slow Mo full-length.
Giving Josh Barber a break on the boards, Ochsner recruited Nashville producer J. Hall to hone Laid Low. Bequeathing the drum stool to former Paramore percussionist Miles McPherson, this is the first time since Hands’ 2009 Facedown debut, Creator, that the guitarist-vocalist hasn’t manned the kit himself on his records. These tweaked production aspects serve to fortify the band’s now-trademark incorporeal inquests with a lightly collaborative flair.
More front-loaded than Phoenix, the first track on Laid Low, “Coma,” conceives an endearing melody that lopes along a smoldering space-rock surge. “Bad Season” follows, delivering the type of chilled-out indie-prog last heard on 2013’s “Most Days.” More than ever, the influence of Hum and Jimmy Eat World are poking through, the fuzzy neo-shoegaze and stately emo-rock details gradually replacing the quondam open-string chug riffs and post-hardcore squawks.
Indeed, each successive release from EISM steadily eschews Ochsner’s guttural screamo yelp for more traditional vocalization; Give Me Rest is perhaps the last time he bellowed a true death growl. Though this EP’s centerpiece “I Am Laid Low” contains a bone-chilling howl at its halfway point, Laid Low more or less continues the group’s transformation into aggro-but-ethereal alt-rock aeronauts.
Though the EP wants for a universal and anthemic paean as Phoenix’s “Numbers,” Laid Low serves as an abbreviated illustration of the band’s various compelling modes. Not a single EISM fan would be displeased with this concise collection. At his current clip, Ochsner’s next unabridged endeavor promises to be his best yet.