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The Scene: Kittie - Endwell - Smilin Liar

by Robert VerBruggen

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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 February 20.

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 - Purchase 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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