Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Dead Soul Tribe Returns To Dominate Heavy Metal

As many of you know, one of my current favorite bands is a little project by former Psychotic Waltz frontman called Dead Soul Tribe. Devon Graves once commented on his music writing abilities that "I write hits. Every song I write is written to be a hit song." I couldn't agree more. Every one of his albums is a solid listen for me with practically no filler.

Despite my devotion to the band, I came across the latest album purely by accident while browsing other albums on Amazon.com. I figured a new album was about due since the last album came out in early 2005, but I'd checked the website only a couple of months ago and it had no updates about a new album in the works. Then, suddenly this gets dropped on September 11th, and I find out about it completely by accident. It's like
Pain of Salvation all over again. Why is it I know more about release dates for bands I care nothing about than the bands I am religiously devoted to? I have up-to-the-minute information piped through my Ethernet line about fucking Metallica's upcoming album, yet both Pain of Salvation and Dead Soul Tribe have released new albums this year, and I get notification completely by chance weeks or months later. There's something wrong with that.

Upon discovery of Dead Soul Tribe's latest release, A Lullaby for the Devil, I immediately embarked on a mission to buy it from an actual CD store somewhere in my area. By "immediately," of course, I meant the next day because I found out about it around 10 at night. After traveling to the one store in my area that might have it and discovering that they did in fact not have it, I cursed my affinity for obscure artists combined with the fact that I live in the dead center of the Midwest. If it's not played incessantly on the radio, most stores around here assume you don't want to hear it. I find it to be the other way around for me. If it's played incessantly on the radio, there's a good chance I don't ever want to hear it again because a) it's crap, and b) I'm sick of it. Look, radio, if I'm going to be forced to listen to a twenty-song playlist on continuous repeat, it should at least be filled with something nobody should ever get sick of hearing, like Sabbath's "Supernaut" and Beck's "Dark Star."

So I had to come home defeated with my tail between my legs and order it from Amazon.com. I hate ordering things from the Internet because I hate having to wait for them to come in the mail. I may be old-fashioned, but if I'm going to pay for something, I want it in my hands right away. It's not the cost of shipping from these places that get me, it's the waiting. Quite frankly, I think shipping charges should be waived because they make you wait. You're being penalized with a double-inconvenience by shopping online. They're charging you to wait for your purchase. Until MIT hurries up and perfects teleportation technology, though, I guess online shopping is more convenient than offline shopping because at least the Internet fucking stocks their shit, which is apparently more than I can ask from most retail stores.

Still, the prospect of waiting three to five days to physically own something I paid for doesn't sit well with me, so I went ahead and downloaded it because I wanted to hear it right away. Yes, that's right, I specifically stated that I illegally downloaded it. It's cool, though, because I paid for a hard copy, too. Consider this kind of a preview rental until I get the real thing in my hands, at which point, I can delete the downloaded copy. The RIAA can deal with it because a) I legally purchased the album prior to downloading it, and I'll dispose of the downloaded copy as soon as I get the actual album, and because the RIAA doesn't own this record label. Haha! Even if they did, they'd only have themselves to blame for not promoting the band enough to generate enough interest to get it stocked in stores where I could physically purchase a copy. Once my order was shipped, I was actually happy that I did decide to download an advanced copy because Amazon estimates the arrival date to be the 16th of October. I was expecting three to five days, not a week and a half. What the fuck, Amazon.com? No wonder I rarely ever use you when I shop online. A week and a half for standard USPS mail? That's not just madness, that's Sparta.

So you want to know how the album actually sounds, right? Well, even if you could not care less, I'm going to tell you anyway. Absolute musical perfection. If you like deep, introspective heavy metal with brilliant lyrics, passionate singing, infectious beats, and memorable melodies, you can't aspire much higher than Dead Soul Tribe, and this album doesn't disappoint. This album sees the band sort of reinventing itself without losing the core sound that makes it unique amongst its modern progressive metal peers. This album leaves the comfort zone more than on previous albums, though and experiments with harder and more straightforward metal, industrial, and even old school prog. On one hand, you have hard industrial rockers like "Psychosphere," "Here Come The Pigs," and "Further Down," and on the other you have more progressive tracks like "Goodbye City Life," "A Stairway to Nowhere," and "The Gosamer Strand." In between, the epics "Any Sign At All" and "A Lullaby for the Devil."

The album opens with "
Psychosphere," which is just a ferocious monster of a song. From the opening bass line you know you're in for a real treat and something quite different from Devon and Co. The singing style is far harder and more aggressive than anything he's really done before. Stripped away is the painful and apprehensive style he's more known for; this song is pure aggression and I lap it up.

I find the next song "Goodbye City Life" to be one of the weakest songs on the album and one of the strongest. Clocking in at eight and a half minutes, it's probably the most progressive song the band has ever released. It opens with a
militaristic barrage heavily reminiscent of Seventies King Crimson, particularly something from the Wake of Poseidon album. Unfortunately, it breaks not once, but twice, for a more Seventies Genesis-styled acoustic part, the second of which featuring a flute solo, just like Genesis back in the old days. That is why I consider it one of the weakest and strongest songs. The metal parts are aggressive, angry, and intense, and I appreciate the nod to old Genesis, which is done very well by the way, but the strong contradiction in styles really breaks the song in two. I want to hear the hard parts over and over again because they're done quite well, but when I'm in the mood to rock hard, I'm not in the mood to listen to a contemplative flute solo for several minutes, no matter how breathtaking it might be. Devon Graves is a highly skilled flute player, but it's much more appropriately woven into songs like "Empty" from the first album and "The Gosamer Strand" from this one.

Next, we have "
Here Come The Pigs," another really heavy industrial track with vocals reminsicent somewhere between Rob Zombie and Sascha Konietzko of KMFDM. Not only does this show the band is highly capable of adapting a wider range of styles, but it and "Psychosphere" really showcase Devon Graves' versatility as a vocalist. Arjen Anthony Lucassen of Ayreon once commented that he was amazed at Graves' ability to emulate a wide variety of styles, and these songs really cement that observation. The casual listener would be surprised to find out that there's only one singer on the entire album because he can make himself sound like a bunch of different people.

"Lost In You" is the only love song on the album. It speaks of a love so deep it borders on psychotic obsession.
A line in the chorus really shocked me with the intensity of the words: "Did you ever care for someone / like sticking your mouth to the end of a gun?" Now that is fucking passion that paints a very vivid and striking mental image. The song tiptoes at times along the lines of emo, but never really plunges fully in because he's not whining about losing a love and vying for sympathy, but just describing the intensity of a love so deep, which he does with staggering accuracy.

"A Stairway To Nowhere" is a definite paradigm shift for the band, leaving traditional metal format behind and opting for a style closer to a
heavy Peter Gabriel song. Devon Graves emulates Peter Gabriel rather well, both in singing style and in the world beat arrangement. There are parts with heavy guitars, but it's an overall slow, contemplative song that hits its intended target quite admirably.

After the Peter Gabriel tribute comes a very obvious nod to Jethro Tull, "
The Gosamer Strand." We all know that Devon Graves is heavily influenced by Ian Anderson, and if you didn't know, then I'll inform you: Devon Graves is heavily inflenced by Ian Anderson. Ian Anderson is the main reason Devon Graves picked up flute playing. Unlike "Goodbye City Life," the flute is incorporated into the song instead of being more of an interrupting solo. "Goodbye City Life" would lose nothing important if it lost the entire flute section, but the flute is a centric part of the instrumental "Gosamer Strand." It starts out very calm and relaxing, then both the guitar and the flute playing become very fast and aggressive. Upon first listen, without reading any of the information provided online about the album, I got a clear sense that he was obviously paying homage to Jethro Tull as the aggressive style of flute playing is nearly identical.

"Any Sign At All" is probably my favorite track on the album, an instant classic. This song is the closest thing to summing up Dead Soul Tribe's sound to the unfamiliar listener since "
Some Things You Can't Return." It's dark, foreboding, ominous, and unquestionably epic. This is the kind of song that makes the uninitiated an instant fan of the band. This is the kind of song, along with "Some Things" and "To My Beloved" that out-Tools Tool. The anxious guitar picking throughout the breaks and verses, accompanied with the haunting keyboard overtones and mournful singing build a sense of apprehensive dread that gets released in the raw and powerful, epic chorus and comes to a cataclysmic head by the end. To sum it up in a word, fucking breathtaking. Like "Some Things You Can't Return," it winds you up in phobic anxiety and leaves you feeling hollow. I love it.

After the ominous "Any Sign At All" hollows you out, a well placed progressive power ballad refills that void with hope and optimism with an ironic title of "Fear." However, unlike it's subject matter, it doesn't actually fill you with fear, it just addresses it. It's actually a nice, quiet, upbeat, acoustic song. It blends a lot of lesser appreciated progressive psychedelic acts from the Sixties and Seventies like Kansas, Jefferson Airplane, Simon and Garfunkel, Moody Blues, Procol Harum, with a little Genesis and Yes thrown in for good measure. It's hard for me to pick out just one main influence in this song, and there's probably a lot I'm not considering, but the point is that it's in that style.

"Further Down" signals the return to hard and heavy metal. It's kind of "Here Comes The Pigs, Part 2." If you liked the industrial beat of "Pigs," you'll like "Further Down," which shares the industrial stomp with a bit more of an epic feel in place of the Rob Zombie / KMFDM vocals of the former track. I still can't help but feel like it's the natural extention of "Pigs," though. Maybe that's just me. I guess I'll know for sure once I get the actual CD with the actual booklet with the lyrics, Amazon-dot-fucking-com.

The album closes with the epic "A Lullaby For The Devil," which forces me to wonder how many times I can use the word "epic" in this review before it becomes "redundant." This song is really neither a lullaby nor for the devil, though; it's more of a devil of a lullaby. It starts out with a nice, little, pretty piano piece accompanied with a soft, high tenor vocal line, and then it kicks in with the
massive ass-kicking. If the purpose of this "lullaby" is to ease someone to sleep, then it's failed in its purpose because it makes you want to start stomping around like a headbanging madman with devil horns thrusted firmly into the air. The subject matter is something I can relate to painfully well, though: the aggravation of not being able to get to sleep when I absolutely have to. Then, once the character in the song does get to sleep, it begins a haunting session of confused and frightened whispering, trying to make sense of the nothingness through which our consciousness wades while asleep.

If Dead Soul Tribe could be summed up as one half ass-kicking heavy metal and one half fretful trip through the spiritual realm, with a little bit of redemption thrown in for good measure, then this album just as much its predecessors, lives up to all expectation. This album is a step forward for the band, a nod to its past influences, and a retention of its core sensibilities all at once. 2007 has been a big year for new releases by both old artists and more recent popular artists, and out of all the good and the bad that I've had to wade through this year, and all the stuff I've yet to review, so far Dead Soul Tribe - A Lullaby for the Devil comes in a close tie for first most highly recommended album of 2007, along with Pain Of Salvation's
Scarsick.

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