Okay, so it's been about 2 years since I first heard ATS and after countless listens, I felt like I had a pretty good comprehension of what this album is. I know some fans loved it, I know some fans hated it, I know some critics liked it and others fucking despised it. Here is what I've come to make out of it.
I'm going to attempt to address certain points about the record that I wanted to voice my opinion about that have been talked about before (and also a few of my own), but haven't been put into total perspective as far as I can tell.
1. The early fan hate of the new sound (absence of guitars, etc.)
2. The album's story (or lack thereof)
3. The overabundance of filler material
1. The Hate Towards "The New Sound"
It's obvious that a big "gimmick" of the album was LP attempting to step out of their comfort zone and trying different things because they didn't want to be pigeonholed to a specific genre, and that is totally fine. The thing that aggravates me is this: Though there is nothing wrong with a band trying new things musically and sonically, LP obviously wrote many of the ATS songs with the intention to make them sound heavy. They also stated that they were trying to find new ways to make the songs have energy without having to use guitars. This is cool and it sounds creative. However, why did they have to implement this on every track? It's clear that some tracks didn't need to be guitar-heavy (Waiting For The End, Robot Boy), but why couldn't they have a few heavy guitars on some of the songs, especially the ones that could have benefited from it? I'm not a nu-metal fanboy that needs his guitar fix, but LP having made so many tracks with a heavy sound, being almost pros at creating a powerful vibe, why did they assume it was wrong for them to have some big heavy moments where they could have fit well on the record?
It just seems to me that what pisses me off about it is not the fact that they didn't use heavy guitars (and yes, I am aware that there are guitars in many tracks), it's more so the fact that they deliberately tried to avoid that element at all that bothers me. The mentality of "Oh, no. Sounds heavy? Don't use it. We can't use guitars." LP are great at this and there was nothing wrong with adding some of the heaviness to give the album some more substance in terms of sonic power and satisfaction to a broader range of fans. This would have sounded great and would have also avoided the whole riot from the older fans about how they hate the softer sound and instead would have allowed more focus to be placed upon the content of the tracks themselves, without having to be mad about the absence of power.
2. The Concept of the Album
This is one of the biggest issues I have with ATS. Is it a concept record or isn't it? This is why it annoys me: If it is meant to be a concept record, where is the story or common thread and why isn't it made much clearer than it is? However, if it isn't meant to be a concept, then how come there are so many damn filler tracks? Let's take it one by one. I understand there is a general theme that surrounds the record, but simply put, the topic of nuclear explosions and the impending end of the world due to technology just isn't enough to cut it for a concept record. In my opinion, those topics are at least a good starting point, but there had to be much more thought put into it if this album was truly to be a concept record (LP themselves have even stated it isn't necessarily a concept record, but then again it seems to be, so there is some evident confusion). If they wanted to go down the concept album route, then they needed to sit down and have a clear plan for it.
I understand they were very busy writing the music and creating demos and that they say that the tracks came to them and not the other way around (as well as saying that they have an amorphous way of writing), but come on, a story is one of the most important parts of creating a concept record. Regardless of their writing methods, they needed to have more of a clear layout of what they wanted to do, even though they seem to be against that (taking that from what they have been saying in their most recent interviews about how they don't sit down to talk about their tracks before they record them). Assuming they went onboard with the concept idea, they should have been able to craft a story around it. "Okay, we have a general topic of humanity ending itself due to its inability to use technology for the better and thus, has lead itself to doom."
Having came up with that, they should have began to build a framework for the album to develop on. It could have been a story about a character, a city, an army - anything, but something that ties the album together in a common manner, not write random songs that talk about nuclear explosions and have random speeches from random political activists - that just doesn't make any sense. In the case that they had crafted a story around a certain item, the songs would have pretty much written themselves (look at The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails). Each track could have described a specific aspect of the story and gradually led towards the ending. It could have even been split by chapters, I don't know, just something to keep the album flowing in one direction, not a big mess of seemingly unfinished ideas. It just seems like they had a good place to start building their concept but just simply didn't put enough thought into it to complete a full narrative or something of the like.
3. The Overabundance of Filler Material
Now, that was all assuming that they actually wanted to create a legitimate concept record. In the case that they didn't, then here is what they should have thought about. If they don't have a solid "story" to be strengthened by interludes, why the hell are there so many filler tracks? I don't think the majority of listeners ever really appreciated these. They serve no purpose. That was just LP trying too hard. Again, I reiterate, had there been a concrete story running throughout the album, these filler tracks could have helped solidify the message being delivered, but yet again, there is no message to be delivered, thus, rendering the filler tracks completely obsolete. If they tried to make the concept record and just couldn't pull through with it (or decided not to go with it after writing all the tracks that ended up on ATS) and just wanted to finish the album and have an abstract collection of songs, then here is what they should've done. For starters, get rid of the bullshit tracks.
Let's start with The Radiance. Seriously, what the fuck? Who the hell needs to put a second intro into an album that isn't even fully considered to be a concept record? It is ABSOLUTELY useless and annoying. Why did it have to be its own separate track? Why couldn't they have worked it into The Requiem at the end? They should have found a way to mix them together so that they could have blended the Oppenheimer speech (if they wanted to include it that bad) into a section of The Requiem. It makes no sense at all. The track serves no purpose and doesn't strengthen the "story" at all. Another track is Empty Spaces. Seriously? A fucking 18 second long track of cricket sounds and marching tribe noises? This is not necessary and not impressive at all. All they did was use samples and put them together. It has no purpose. They should have kept it at the end of Burning In The Skies, not have it be ITS OWN DAMN TRACK. I can't think of anyone else who has done something like this on their album before.
Jornada Del Muerto is fine because it is an instrumental track and acts as a smooth segue between Robot Boy and Waiting For The end. Wisdom, Justice And Love however, again… What the fuck? You don't even KNOW what your concept record is really about, being as vague as it is, you don't have a solid story for the album, yet you still have the nerve to include another pointless track including an excerpt from a Martin Luther King speech? You have to be fucking kidding me! This is not arty at all! It is downright ridiculous. Fallout has no purpose either, but at least it has some lyrics from a previous track, and plus, 11 tracks would have been an awkward number, but seriously, this is what the tracklist should have looked like:
1. The Requiem
2. Burning In The Skies
3. When They Come For Me
4. Robot Boy
5. Jornada Del Muerto
6. Waiting For The End
8. Wretches And Kings
11. The Catalyst
12. The Messenger
Now, that looks like a much more realistic and coherent tracklist to me. It eliminates the misleading aspect of fans thinking it's gonna be a huge album because they saw 15 tracks on the list. It just makes much more sense this way. Fans would have been less annoyed about the tracks, and they would have focused more on the actual songs instead of complaining about the tracklist structure.
The reason why I wrote this is because I truly believe that A Thousand Suns could have been much better. I think that LP had a great concept, but just didn't know how to execute it well enough. I believe I listed most (if not all) of the reasons why the album didn't reach its artistic peak.
I know this topic is a bit old, but I would love to hear your opinions about it.