Round Table Review
Tracklist: Prelude: Time and Pressure (1:40), A Flight On An Angel's Wings (4:31), To My Beloved... (5:56), Don't You Ever Hurt? (4:56), Some Sane Advice (3:57), Let The Hammer Fall (4:03), Waiting In Line (6:34), Someday (1:34), My Dying Wish (4:01), A Fistful Of Bended Nails (5:25), The Long Ride Home (4:20)
In what seems like a very short space of time, this is the fourth album from the dark metal band, Dead Soul Tribe, formed by Devon Graves (a.k.a. Buddy Lacky) following the demise of ProgMetal pioneers Psychotic Waltz. And it is certainly the darkest, most groove-laden, and retrospective of the quartet.
Now, a lot of the early comments I’d read about this release, were strongly complaining about the lack of distance, musically, that the band has travelled since their self-titled debut came out. ‘More of the same’ and ‘too predictable’, were frequently uttered comments. And sure, those are opinions with a certain viability, if you only take the trouble to give this a cursory listen. Like most bands, Dead Soul Tribe have a sound of their own, and certainly on that level, The Dead Word differs very little from The January Tree or A Murder Of Crows.
It’s when you listen to this album, and I mean really listen to this album, that you begin to appreciate the subtle differences within each song. For me, this is actually the band’s most original and varying album to date. It gets more interesting, as it progresses, too.
At times, it’s just plain heavy. Let the Hammer Fall being a very modern take on Led Zeppelin, circa The Immigrant Song. Meanwhile, the two opening tracks really blast out the anger and intent. But around this metal core lies a wide variety of mood and temp.
There’s a lovely, sanguine feel to the intro of To My Beloved..; Some Sane Advice is a lovely ballad with a real 60s feel to it; the shorter Someday has a smoky, bar room jazz feel too it, while the rhythmic drumming which opens My Dying Wish is fantastic. The use of a bit of electronica here, also works well. There’s even the modern metal vibe of Nevermore or Ray Alder’s Engine, appearing on what is probably my favourite track Don’t You Ever Hurt.
The flute is used more sparingly than before, only cropping up on a couple of tracks, while the use of violin on A Fistful of Bended Nails opens up some new possibilities. Only the closing track, fails to enthuse.
The production sparkles – at times it’s as if Devon is singing in your ear – while, for me, the rhythm section steals the show, for driving everything along brilliantly.
The band hits the roads of Europe, with Sieges Even, in January, and on the basis of this album, I’d have no hesitation in going to see them play – if it didn’t involve having to jump on a plane, that is!!
The Dead Word shows off a band that is no different to the likes of Threshold, or if you want a bigger name, Iron Maiden. They’ve found a sound and style that is their own, but possess an ability to play around the edges, to give each album its own identity. When you also have that canny ability to write really enjoyable songs, that listeners will want to keep coming back to, then why should there be a need to constantly re-invent yourselves.
So Devon Graves is at it again. With A Murder Of Crows Devon proved himself a worthy musician, and while The January Tree was not quite as varied or phenomenal it offered some captivating lyrics and a few very good songs. The latest Dead Soul Tribe release, The Dead Word, falls nicely in the middle, taking the better elements of The January Tree (most notably the heavier feel and more driving song structure) and A Murder of Crows (the intricate song-writing) and putting a new twist on it.
First, I must say I have already seen several reviews roughly saying this CD is terrible and that Devon has lost his touch. If anyone has read these reviews, and has been thus disillusioned about the new album, let me say that I feel the comments and criticisms levelled at Devon are unwarranted and altogether undeserved. I first listened to this album after reading several such reviews, and honestly wasn’t expecting much. And by the end of the first actual song (A Flight On An Angel’s Wings), I was pretty disappointed, as it sounded remarkably like Spiders and Flies injected with the faster drum “beat” of Toy Rockets. The Prelude (Time and Pressure) is merely industrial noise with a few muffled samples of people talking over it, and the first song is a spin-off of the opener from the last album...lame, right?
Well, yes. And if one were to stop listening right now, I can see why Devon was so heavily criticized for recording this entire album in barely a month (especially as did all the writing, as well as played all the instruments except the drums himself). The third song, To My Beloved, opens with Devon’s signature hammer-on pull-off bass lick, but once the vocals come in it is clear that this is not just a heavy January Tree duplicate. The song takes on the feel of a stripped-down (bass and drums only), melancholy likeness of Lady of Rain. The chorus brings in the guitar, too, and speeds things up a bit, before returning to the slower, sparser verses. Fans of Dead Soul Tribe will probably enjoy this song quite a bit ... those who don’t care for the band most likely aren’t going to be impressed into becoming lifelong fans.
The next track, Don’t You Ever Hurt?, contrastingly opens with thick guitar and electronic-esque drums a la Wings of Faith, if a comparison is needed. This is one of the more upbeat songs on the album, and features some of the neatest feels with the semi-electronic drums adding texture throughout. Some Sane Advice opens with an almost bluesy wah-guitar and acoustic guitar, bringing to mind the bonus track Time from A Murder of Crows. Between the acoustic texture, the vocal harmonies (among the few on the album), and the very down-home feel of this song, I’d have to say this is my favourite song from the album, and among my top two or three by the band.
Let The Hammer Fall opens with police sirens, joined by an almost poppy guitar riff and drums, with just a touch of electronic overtone. If Devon’s voice were a little darker, and if he’d take the psychedelic effects away, this song could almost sound like Korn (but in a good way). More vocal harmonies on the chorus here, and another quite enjoyable tune. This makes four songs that DO NOT sound like rehashes of previous DST efforts, and two in a row that are not only original and interesting but rank among my favourite DST songs.
Waiting In Line is another of the songs reminiscent of The January Tree, but given a nice treatment involving a much deeper feel, a few well-placed church bells, and some flute accents. This is actually the kind of song I would have liked to see more of on The January Tree, which I found to be lacking in musical diversity far more than this effort. Someday is a nice, short little piano ballad, injecting a nice little change of pace in the middle of this album, something generally reserved for the last couple of songs in DST’s repertoire.
My Dying Wish opens with some deep tribal percussion, soon complemented with a layer of electronics almost a la Fear Factory's slower songs, further broadening the spectrum of DST’s stylistic meanderings. This song straight up rocks, with a feel not quite like anything previously offered and some very catchy vocal harmonies. I’m seriously beginning to wonder if the aforementioned critics listened past the second track, because I have only noticed brief moments throughout the entire core of this album that sound like modifications of previous DST songs.
A Fistful of Bended Nails opens with some distorted electronic keyboards, or maybe a violin through a tremolo box and a fuzz filter, building as bass, drums, guitar, and church bells are added to the ominous rhythm. Everything but the bass and drums are stripped away for the dark verses, sounding very much industrial, like a man walking very slowly and deliberately down a dark alley at about two in the morning. The closer, The Long Ride Home, opens like a traditional DST song, which I never thought I’d be saying in a Dead Soul Tribe review. Devon’s guitars and Adel Moustafa’s frantic drumming can only be understood by listening, and this song showcases them both quite well. The vocal harmonies and flute section bring together both the older and newer side of the band into a fitting closing song for this album.
Dead Soul Tribe has established an interesting little niche in the world of Progressive hard rock. This album is definitely a Dead Soul Tribe album, but within their niche it is as different from their other albums as The January Tree was from A Murder of Crows. They experiment with new sounds, new feels, and draw from a wider band of influences than their previous efforts, something which truly makes this album shine.
I’m tempted to give this album an 8, but I think part of that is a hyper counter-reaction to what I expected from the negative vibe before I heard it. DST fans can count on being impressed, perhaps even more than by A Murder of Crows, certainly more than by The January Tree. After many listens this album has moved to my top spot among DST albums, which is saying quite a bit given my fondness for A Murder of Crows. The album flows and varies quite well, and offers a look into the band largely overlooked on their previous albums. Listeners new to the band can expect a pleasant surprise.
Dead Soul Tribe have carved something of a niche for themselves in the progressive rock world of the 21st century. Marking the return to the music world of ex-Psychotic Waltz man Devon Graves, the band made a patchy but intermittently excellent debut before really cementing their reputation with the double whammy of A Murder Of Crows and The January Tree. I must admit that the appearance of The Dead Word took me by surprise, as I had not been expecting a follow-up to The January Tree so soon. In actuality, this has turned out to be a good thing, at it’s meant there’s been little build up of anticipation; this is probably for the best because, simply put, The Dead Word is, by Graves’ previously high standards, a very disappointing release.
For those new to the band, I won’t go into detail on my take on Dead Soul Tribe’s general sound – for that, I’d point you in the direction of my review of A Murder Of Crows. Suffice to say, the general sound has changed little, but what has changed is the quality of the song writing, and the execution of the songs themselves.
Looking at the notes I’ve made whilst listening to this album, the one that reappears often is ‘sluggish’ – the majority of the material has a tired, leaden feel to it, with Graves going through the motions over well-trodden ground. First track proper A Flight On Angel’s Wings is a good illustration of this; lumbering in on a simplistic bass and drum rhythm, it plods along at slow to mid pace, never really going anywhere. Yes, the riffs are quite heavy, the vocals angry and there’s an ominous feel to it, but that’s not enough. Unfortunately its not the only example of this type of track on the album – A Fistful Of Bended Nails is particularly weak (and it cribs the intro to Iron Maiden’s Wasted Years!), and whilst final track The Long Ride Home has a good opening riff and some soulful vocals, it soon loses its way – a very long ride home in fact, and one that never really reaches its destination.
There are occasions when Graves sticks to the patented DST formula yet still gets good results, despite the distinctly lethargic rhythm section. To My Beloved… is in essence similar to A Flight… yet has more of an edge to it, stronger riffs and a good chorus, whilst Don’t You Ever Hurt? and Waiting In Line both have more robust structures and build in a more coherent fashion. There’s still something lacking however, and it’s probably down to the simplicity of the arrangements; these would suit many heavy bands down to the ground, but Dead Soul Tribe are a more complex beast, relying as much on subtlety as bludgeon, and the former is noticeably lacking here.
Graves does indulge in a little experimentation on The Dead Word, with mixed results. Some Sane Advice is something of a sing-along rock ballad, and is unhappily reminiscent of Poison’s Every Rose Has It’s Thorn. A Dying Wish is better; with its mechanised beats, a slight funk-rock feel and understated vocals, its hardly wildly exciting, but stands out in this company. Let The Hammer Fall, meanwhile, attempts to be a full-throttle metal song, with it’s jackhammer riffs and aggressive vocals, but is perhaps a little too restrained to fully succeed.
In conclusion, this is hardly a terrible album, but unfortunately it isn’t a particularly good one either, and is just not of the standard I’ve come to expect from Dead Soul Tribe. Hopefully, following the inevitable touring of this album, Graves will take some time out to recharge his creative batteries, as he seems to be showing considerable signs of running on empty at present. I’ve no doubt we can expect excellent work from Graves in the future, but in the meantime I’d advise readers (including existing fans) to approach The Dead Word with caution.