Kittie - Endwell - Smilin Liar
by Robert VerBruggen
Screaming is back in style. But as has
always been the case, an album full of it won't sell to a mainstream audience.
The question becomes, how best to mix extreme
vocals with melodic ones? New releases from Endwell, Kittie and Smilin
Liar try very different answers.
Of the three, Endwell's Homeland Insecurity
is easily the most successful. The band molds elements of hardcore, metal,
pop-punk and emo into a set of catchy, cohesive and absolutely top-notch
songs. This is a CD to buy and an act to keep track of.
Guitar players Danny Pupplo and Dan Puglisi
deliver A+ performances, nailing complex metal riffs and fleet-fingered
lead passages yet settling for simple chord strumming when the songs call
for it. The brief "Goodbyes are Always Coldest in December" even goes down
a spacey Pink Floyd road. They got it, but they don't always flaunt it.
Songwriting-wise there's nary a weak spot
to find, but a few compositions stand out. Lead track "The End" is the
record's most brutal, with exclusively hardcore vocals until the bridge.
Elsewhere, deep-throat-screamed verses tend to run up against sugary-sweet
pop-punk choruses; "Single and Loving It," "Drowning (One Last Breath)"
and the title track probably feature the catchiest.
This interplay between brutality and melody
is Endwell's most interesting dynamic. A liberal dose of testosterone does
a good job of covering up the fact Endwell sings about those themes of
insecurity and fragility that men really shouldn't. Conversely, the radio-friendly
hooks will endear Endwell to the record-buying public.
The one criticism this record will draw
is that it's very much part of the evolving metalcore scene – like many
acts on Victory Records, Endwell falls toward the punk side of that spectrum.
But the song quality, and the care taken in weaving different genres together,
puts Homeland Insecurity well ahead of the pack. [
Rating: 5 stars - Preview
and Purchase This CD Online ]
Moving on to Kittie, perhaps metal's all-time
biggest statistical aberration.
An all-female Canadian act, they came to
popularity toward the end of the nu-metal era. They're also young -- singer
Morgan Lander turned 25 January 6; her drummer sister, Mercedes, is two
years younger. They've been famous since 1999's Spitwent platinum.
The two subsequent releases hit the gold
mark, mixing melodic with death vocals, but even Korn admitted nu-metal
is dead. No sound that sold eight years ago will sell today. In an attempt
to change with the times Kittie will release Funeral for Yesterday
It's a decent effort with strong, generally
radio-friendly songwriting. But in many ways it can't hold its own against
the more technical metal today's bands tend toward.
The album's first two tracks serve as a
sort of microcosm. "Funeral for Yesterday" is simple and melodic,
while "Breathe" brings in fast metal riffing and double bass drumming.
The former is quite a success, at least until the cheesy key change. And
the latter makes a good go at it, with soaring vocal lines that offset
the musical brutality.
The problem is, today's audiences know
the likes of Lacuna Coil, Lamb of God and Shadows Fall, so they can't help
but notice the improvements better musicians would have made. Some synthesized
strings would have made the throbbing chords of "Funeral for Yesterday"
interesting, and the two guitars in "Breathe" ache to harmonize each other
instead of playing in unison. Both lack guitar solos, though some other
tracks feature acceptable ones.
So Funeral for Yesterday ends up
a collection of solid ideas served up through lightweight musicianship.
Sometimes the songwriting kills any doubt a listener could have – there's
no reason to change a note in "Everything that Could Have Been." Other
times, clean guitars or exotic melodies spruce up the soundscape a bit;
"Sweet Destruction Interlude" and "Will to Live"are great examples.
And every few songs (more frequently toward
the end), Morgan Lander's death metal growls elicit the standard "I can't
believe that noise came from a woman" reaction, particularly in "Last Goodbye."
Though the lyric "I know you want me" doesn't really match the mood.
In the end it's hard not to enjoy Funeral
for Yesterday, with its admirable songwriting, capable riffing and
noticeable development since the band's early days. But next time around,
Kittie would do better to bring in a better producer – someone to fully
develop ideas when the girls fail. [ Rating: 4 stars
This CD with Bonus DVD Online ]
Smilin Liar's So Mrs. Kennedy, How Was
the Drive? is the most intense and diverse offering here, foregoing
Endwell's bounciness and Kittie's singing-on-a-mountain choruses in favor
of an angry and direct approach. There's plenty of melody to grasp; the
singer often screams to pitch or sings outright.
The first track, "Shut Up and Drive" –
those words directed to Mrs. Kennedy – is easily the best and most innovative.
With spacey guitars and gentle spoken-word vocals, it's also the most surprising.
It's too bad it barely breaks the minute mark.
Next up is "White Lie," the best-constructed
of the heavy compositions. The vocals evoke Phil Anselmo, and the guitars
push the song forward with an intense rage. Countless riffs flow into each
other without stretching the song past its welcome.
From there, So Mrs. Kennedy, How Was
the Drive? gets a little confusing. Fully a third of the record – "My
Heart Upon the Killing Floor," "From Ashes to Leaves" and "Black is the
New Blonde" – drops the metal for a '90s alternative sound. Some listeners
will enjoy the change of pace, but others will wonder what the hell happened.
"Two Points, Two Curves (The Shape)" and
"Blood from the Stone" are the album's disappointments; heavy, half-hearted
attempts to help "White Lie" balance out the gentler, melodic tracks. The
vocal work ranges from mediocre to downright uninspired, and while there
are plenty of decent guitar riffs, none turns heads the way "White Lie's"
fist-in-the-face thrashing does.
Of the three records, then, So Mrs.
Kennedy, How Was the Drive? takes the cake in terms of musical diversity.
The problem is that only one of the three tracks to incorporate heavy doses
of screaming succeeds. On future releases the band might play down the
metal and go after the alternative audience, because that's where its heart
lies. [Rating: 4 stars - Preview
and Purchase This CD Online ]
Robert VerBruggen (http://www.therationale.com)
is an apprentice editor at The National Interest and an antiMusic contributor.
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