The Pit and the Pendulum: Alesana

Drawing from literary heavyweights like Edgar Allan Poe, the Grimm Brothers, and Dante, The Inked Magazine Music Tour headliner, Alesana, creates an awesomely dark experience.

Fitting in was never an option for Alesana, and they’ve gained all the more fans for it. The self-proclaimed pop-metal band blends fierce growls and smooth vocals in a way that’s not “hardcore,” “screamo,” “metalcore,” or any of the other labels it’s so popular to put on bands with a screaming vocalist. To play on the subgenres, they originally dubbed themselves “sweetcore” because, according to a friend, they were just too damn sweet to be hardcore. Throw in the uplifting lyrics, the literature-based storytelling, and the inspiring messages the band calls PMA (Positive Mental Attitude), and you’ve got something that is hard to find in the music industry: originality.

The six-member band may seem at first glance to have too many cooks in the kitchen, but it’s their size they credit for their creativity. Songwriters Shawn Milke (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, piano) and Patrick “Peezee” Thompson (lead guitar) craft the band’s inspiring lyrics, while Dennis Lee (unclean vocals), Jeremy Bryan (drums, percussion), Shane Crump (bass guitar, backing vocals), and former Eyes Set to Kill guitarist Alex Torres (another lead guitar) make up the rest of the three-vocal, three-guitar onslaught that is Alesana.

“We don’t try to be like anyone else or to be something we’re not,” Milke says. “By having six members we are able to pull off the same guitar and vocal harmonies in a live setting that we have on the record.” That means no Auto-Tune, no backing tracks, no compromising anything for the live performance (like The INKED Magazine Music Tour, fuck yeah!)—something the heavily themed albums deserve. Since 2006, when they released their first full-length, On Frail Wings of Vanity and Wax, the band has been choosing a literary concept for each record they put out. “Dennis and I are both big literature nerds,” Milke says. “I’ve always loved music, so I thought it was a good way to get my stories out there in a different kind of way. It separates us from our peers. Not many bands do it the way we do it.” And everything they do has this kind of personal touch, down to the name of the band. Alesana was taken from Aliceanna Street in Baltimore, the block on which Milke and Thompson grew up.

Frail Wings was based on Greek mythology and was followed in 2008 by the Brothers Grimm fairy tale–inspired Where Myth Fades to Legend, featuring slightly darker lyrics than the band’s typical PMA. “I wanted to work with fairy tales, specifically the Brothers Grimm’s, because most people don’t realize how dark some of them are,” Milke explains. The darker theme continued a year later when the band released the first album in a trilogy, The Emptiness, which was influenced by the work of Edgar Allan Poe. The second installment, A Place Where the Sun Is Silent (2011), was inspired by Dante Alighieri’s The Inferno.

But despite these darker themes, Alesana is still upbeat. The band is adorned in colorful tattoos, ranging from the band-wide PMA acronym and heart logo from their EP reissue “Try This With Your Eyes Closed” to individual pieces like Milke’s Legend of Zelda half-sleeve. Their uplifting lyrics stick with their fans, both in mind and on skin: “There’s a bit of a cult following with the whole literature theme. People will get lines of the stories we base our music on tattooed on them,” Milke says. “The craziest one was when someone had me write down some of our lyrics and got them tattooed in my handwriting.”

While the band gears up for the INKED Music Tour, they’re also working on their final installment of the trilogy. “We never stop,” Milke laughs. “If we had it our way, we’d put out two or three records a year.” To continue their storytelling, the next album will be based on A Wrinkle in Time. “I’ve never wanted to be a diary- entry kind of band. That works for some people, but I do enough of that myself. I thought writing stories would be a cool way around that,” Milke says.

Their tour begins in New York City on October 10 and runs through November 7, with a final stop in their pseudo-home of North Carolina. “It has been way too long since we have seen [our fans’] smiling faces, and what better way to do it than to hit the road and do what we do best?” Milke says. “In addition to bringing some very close friends of ours along for the ride, we will be playing material that spans our entire career, as well as unleashing a surprise or two.” Get your butts online, order your tickets, and experience the story for yourself.

Inked Magazine Music Tour featuring ALESANA

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