Acceptance Album Review: The Diagram of a Simple Collision

Before I talk about the new record Colliding By Design by Acceptance, I want provide some context of what this band has meant to so many people, me included. In the early 2000s there was a surge in bands on what felt like 100 micro-indie labels putting out music faster than we could keep up with it when considering compilation CDs, Warped Tour, countless tours with six bands on the bill…the list goes on and on. So it should be conversely noted that a saturated music field was not the worst thing in the world, not in this case. It really means this, bands like Acceptance had a wonderful platform to stand out and showcase top tier talent. Not typical talent, but the kind that made you want to pay attention to the songs or the kind that made you wonder if singer Jason Vena could sing all those notes live (spoiler alert: he can). These intangibles were just a few of the things that we all loved about this band 10+ years ago and why we still love them now. 

OK, now that I got that out there as a precursor, I would love to take a moment to talk about Colliding By Design. The first single that was released was the song Diagram of a Simple Man. This song title, like the music itself, is uniquely complex and yet easy to take in and the more you take it in, the more you’re left in awe. One of the first things I noticed on this song and record was the dynamic that Garrett Lunceford brought back to the drumming (Garrett drummed on the Black Lines to Battlefield EP while Nick Radovanovic drummed on Phantoms). It reminds me a bit of what Riley Breckenridge does with Thrice in the sense that there is a unique and beautiful syncopation with the guitar/bass pattern. Without nerding out too much here, this approach allows vocalist Jason Vena to do what he does best, sing wonderfully and be the glue to the song with his smooth tone and catchy melodies. When you hear the chorus for the first time, you hear that the rhythmic approach isn’t straight forward but the vocal delivery is, that’s the genius that’s both the complexity of great song writing but simple enough to where it doesn’t lose you, it pulls you in and you stay for the rest of the rest record.  

An element that Acceptance integrated in their previous full length but has perfected in this record, namely in We Can Escape, is the use of pads and keys. They were wonderfully done last time and this round you hear the sustaining notes lay a gorgeous foundation for yet another brilliant vocal performance. As this specific song dips in and out of the verse and chorus, you feel a dynamic sense of soundscapes and tonality texture with the complimentary guitar playing between Christian McAlhaney and Kaylan Cloud. I for one have always been a fan of Kaylan’s guitar tone since the early 2000s. He has an ear for note selection and tonality that is something only he could bring to the table. In the second single, Haunted, you can hear his cleaner tones subtly cut and draws you into the verse and as you pay attention to the riff, then the song drops into a chorus that makes you put the song on repeat a hundred times over, or at least did for me. 

Colliding By Design was done justice by producer Aaron Sprinkle by doing what he does best, the collection of songs is a premeditated composition and arrangement that takes you on a true experience of what Acceptance does best live, keeping your attention with songs you won’t soon forget. The record navigates from the single to the aforementioned song to another song that could easily be another single like Goodbye or Fire and Rain. Now, I would be remiss to not mention what Ryan Zwiefelhofer does on these songs that only he would be able to do for the songs. As a reformed musician and more specifically a bass player, isolating the bass playing is the one thing on the entire album that brings that one aspect of songwriting that is often lost, it allows you to feel the music, not just hear it. Ryan pulls from an array of inspiration and musical influence that ranges from pop to bands you should know and love but you’ve never heard of them and he’s hands down one of the smartest guys you could know, particularly when you hear how he takes his influences of music and adds them into Acceptance. The bass playing is nothing short genius and holds the songs together in the a precise manner that truly captures his skill set.

Perhaps the most crucial element to Acceptance is Christian McAlhaney. For those who may not have been following the linear story of this extraordinary gentlemen, here is the quick recap, when this band parted ways in 2006 Christian went on to play in Anberlin. I only mention this because as he was a part of that writing process for them, you can hear and see Christian grow as a songwriter. As Acceptance regathered for what I believe to be the best record to date for them, there was an x-factor of writing and maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not, but I’m inclined to believe that he was a gigantic variable in how these songs were made. When I close my eyes and listen to Colliding By Design, I feel like Christian is telling a story, his story, without using a single word. That’s special, that’s meaningful and that is what makes this record one of the best things you could possibly allow yourself to take in. There is a long history and story to this band and to the members and this summation is a perfect bow on an album that was a long time coming.

I didn’t mention the break up in the beginning of this not because it doesn’t matter but because of how life works, we start something and sometimes those things end; however, sometimes and just sometimes, those things come back together and when they do, it’s like it never ended. We’ve waited over a decade for this record and it was a long 10+ years but now that’s it here, it’s like they never left and my heart rejoices at the highest level for this band. If you’re reading this, if you took the time to read these words, it’s nothing compared to Colliding By Design. Go and buy, stream or however else you can purchase this album and allow yourself to experience this music. 

Last October I was with the guys on a small Texas tour and these are some of the photographs that were made a result of our time together. I wish my brothers all the best because they deserve it and I am filled with a sense of pride and joy with this release of this record.