From the bowels of Michigan, We Came As Romans roared into my formative high school years around 2008 with the release of their 2008 EP, Dreams. A metalcore sound I’d never heard before, We Came As Romans miraculously molded electronica, skull beating double-bass rhythms, face melting guitar riffs, unexpected string arrangements, and harrowing screams into well-orchestrated songs that are meant to be noticed and played at full blast. The four track record takes you on a trip through surrealistic sounds and positive messages imbedded within daunting attitudes that such metal provides. What sets these guys apart, though, from most other metalcore acts, is that their music is comprehendible in terms of where the songs are going and that they don’t sound dated—as if the electronica influence was ahead of its time seven years ago. Whatever it is, I still revisit this band to remember fondly the years of adolescence I spent wandering around a small town in Illinois with nothing better to do then listen to unpopular music, loiter in the local mall, and continuously dream of escaping to somewhere better.
“Conditions” dives right into the bands full power, showing off the diversity between the clean and screaming vocals and how they balance each other out. This a major factor behind the band’s sound, the back and forth between the intensity of the screams and the relief of the pop-punk-esque vocal harmonies. We’re also shown the first taste of the electronic aspect to the band’s sound with the brief synthesizer breakdown that is almost like a quick breath on the surface before diving back down into the waters trying not to drown while searching for something. Like all the songs on this EP, the lyrics revolve around discussing the human condition and the concept of redemption. The first verse goes, “We were designed for more / In an image not our own / But we’ve fallen short / I’m quite speechless and was quite unaware / Of what the capabilities of a weak heart are.” But comes back later with another verse that goes, “I believe in a better condition / In one that I have yet to attain / I believe in a better love / In one that has yet to change.” This type of lyricism offers an interesting contrast with the ‘heaviness’ of the music.
This contrast is continued in the title track, “Dreams.” Notably the ‘hit’ of this EP (it, along with “Intentions,” were re-recorded for their 2009 album, To Plant a Seed), “Dreams” kicks off with a steady drum beat and a dreamy, ominous air to it that builds into roaring metal guitars and a screaming verse that knocks you on your ass. A song of brotherhood, it discusses the struggles of sharing love in both a personal and communal sense. The line that’s repeated, and most recognizable, “that you are forever my brother,” embodies the positive spirit behind the band’s lyricism—which is a strange concept for most people when they think about metalcore and heavier music in general. “Positive metal,” doesn’t sound all that appealing to most that are into this kind of music, but this band makes it work by not being overly cheesy and trying to reach universal concepts through lyrics that capture some sense of morality. A really epic part of this song comes when they chant the line, “Beloved, let us love one another,” during a heavy breakdown with double bass action that eventually catapults the song into its climax.
Like “Conditions,” “Intentions” launches right into full blast with the same energy that dominates this record. The theme of brotherhood is continued as the band stands up for the weak, “I cry for those without a voice,” screaming lines of positivity and pleading those to follow their example, “Take my hand and let me show you what it is to love.” Musically, the song stands out from the others by having a war-esque symphony interrupt the song as an interlude to a breakdown of growls. The shortest song on the EP, it runs quick and leads right into, honestly, a weak track to finish the record that disappoints in comparison to what preceded it.
“Shapes” plays with more of the electronic influences the band has as well as another feature of a symphonic interlude of strings and piano riffs. This song, though, doesn’t offer the ‘epic feeling’ the previous songs had that’d driven the EP up until this point. My guess is that it was stuck at the end because it was the weakest song out of the four, because, frankly, for a four song EP it’s usually a better idea to stick your best songs at the beginning so new listeners can really get a taste of your best stuff. So I understand the decision, but as a fan I’m still disappointed by the track. There’s nothing special to say about it, other than it features all the elements of the band’s sound in a kind of mesh that seems aimless because of the lack of climax.
Regardless, Dreams is a solid EP for a band that was just beginning to formulate their sound that fans would come to love. We Came As Romans are able to combine positive messages with heavy music to form songs that are still stadium worthy. In terms of the hardcore scene, the band has proven that they’re going to stick around with their latest album from 2013, Tracing Back Roots, which was hailed by critics and debuted at number 8 on the Billboard 200. But the thing about Dreams that really got me when I first heard this EP years ago, is that this band created hardcore music compressed into comprehensive, three to four minute songs that had direction and high points that not a lot of other hardcore bands I’d heard had. The record only clocks in at just over fifteen minutes, and yet it doesn’t feel rushed—nor does it drag. We Came As Romans are masters of leading you through songs—taking you down the correct paths and keeping you at certain places for just the right amount of time to gain the full experience you need. Hearing bands that would follow them, the electronic influence was surely ahead of its time in terms of orchestrated metalcore (Sky Eats Airplane along with them doing strange things like ‘Nintendocore’), but surely the band didn’t let this one aspect define their sound. We Came As Romans are a perfect demonstration of how having a diverse sound leads to longevity in life and relevance in an ever evolving music scene. Looking back at where they started, it’s no surprise the band is still around and refusing to fade into the background like many of their contemporaries.