17 years along, Tooth & Nail Records has been a pivotal force in the Christian music industry since the scene's beginnings. Responsible for bringing many amazing new artists to light, many debut albums from the label are still highly respected today, such as Anberlin's Blueprints For The Black Market (2003), Hawk Nelson's Letters To The President (2004), and even more recent favorites like Children 18:3's self-titled debut and the late Capital Lights's This Is An Outrage!. Debut albums don't necessarily define an artist for their whole career, but a solid, well-constructed debut sets them in the right direction. Unfortunately, The Letter Black's debut full-length album Hanging On By A Thread is not one of those albums.
The Letter Black is essentially Tooth & Nail's female-fronted hard rock band to compete with the likes of Flyleaf and Fireflight, and as a result, the approach the band takes is anything but a fresh one. Put the sounds of Flyleaf, Decyfer Down and Skillet in a blender, and you would get The Letter Black. The problem with this mix is that this prevents The Letter Black from achieving a sound that is purely their own. This problem is developed further by the fact that each track has very little distinction from the next. Besides this caveat, the whole album's lyrics just have a basic feel to them as well; one doesn't have to dig much if at all to reveal anything profound. TLB have some good things to say, but even the way the lyrics are delivered is sub-par (for example, rhyming "fire with fire" with "eye for an eye" isn't exactly well-written). The band's attempts at ballads ("There'll Come A Day," "Best Of Me," "More To This") also fall flat; stale and somewhat pretentious, they just fail to grip the listener like they should.
Another very apparent problem would have to be in the vocals. Unlike the sweet but powerful vocals of Fireflight's Dawn Michele or the unique rawness of Flyleaf's Lacey Mosley, Sarah Anthony's vocals don't have an attribute that makes her vocals stand out. In fact, it could be argued that they are a little irritating. They aren't horrible, but they are almost too consistent in their passion, giving them a "canned" feeling. Anthony even belts out a few screams ("All Of Me," "Wounded"), but sadly, they aren't executed very well and are more obnoxious than anything. TLB's guitarist (and Sarah's husband) Mark Anthony adds some background vocals in the mix to help out, but unfortunately they don't alleviate the vocal problem very much. Given the fact that it's a hard rock record, the vocals aren't supposed to sound particularly graceful, but when they aren't particularly pleasant, it's a problem that plagues the entire album.
From the opening riff of "Fire With Fire" to the ending guitar grind of "Wounded," Hanging On By A Thread is a draining, mediocre hard rock ride. The Letter Black is undoubtedly a band with good intentions, but with an album that's uninteresting at best and unlistenable at worst, if it is quality one is looking for, they won't find it here. It's hard to say whether or not TLB can improve or if there's really hidden talent here, but one thing is certain: Tooth & Nail Records has and can offer far better (as they have in the past), and The Letter Black's debut full-length really isn't worth the investment.- PReview date: 2/11/10, Review date: 5/2/10, written by Roger Gelwicks of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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