Blame Game has come a long way during its short five years. It's hard to believe that the swelling, tonal clusters and percussive convulsions on Honey & Salt, its first proper album-length effort, are fashioned by the same hands that once scowled from hardcore's crusty shadows.
But then again, only two of the group's original members, drummer Alex Lambert and bassist Chris Ware have stuck it out to sharpen their skills and reap the rewards. On Honey & Salt, Blame Game's core rhythm section of Ware and Lambert is flanked by guitarist Andrew Wiggins and guitarist/vocalist George Asimakos. The new personnel shift brings a much brighter take on the music that is reflected in everything from the album's sun-bleached cover art to the blaring complexities of the opening cut, "Lemon Drops."
From the beginning, undulating waves of guitar rise and fall over the clang of cymbals that drift from rapid-fire to slow-motion chatter. These peaks and valleys of sonic terrain imply that the group's sense of song structure results from a silent telepathy that binds guitar-to-drum-to-bass-to-voice.
With such associations in place, the group's sensibilities lean toward the realms of free jazz and improvisation, rather than a need to flex its math-rock muscles. Just as the guitars are being subtly drawn toward Don Caballero-style noodling, rhythmic shifts from the bass and drums act as magnets pulling parts in place.
In the past, Blame Game's weakest moments have always emanated from its vocal deliveries. Former vocalist Ian Deaton's range felt out of place. Honey & Salt presents a largely instrumental take on the music. Asimakos handles the sparse vocal numbers, his voice invoking a nasally, Ozzy Osbourne-esque bark in songs like "Slidin' Highway" and "Truly Wash Yourself." It's a complementary accent to the music. But it's Ware's muffled, he-banshee howls that bookend the recording in "Lemon Drops" and "Subtle Parts" that give the record its most compelling voice. Discharging from a din of harmonious dissonance, these cries materialize as involuntary responses proving that the songs have taken on a life of their own. Blame Game has indeed become much greater than the sum of its parts.
Blame Game plays the Drunken Unicorn, with Lachance and I Would Set Myself on Fire for You, Thurs., Aug. 18. 9 p.m. $5. 736 Ponce de Leon Place. www.thedrunkenunicorn.net.