Female-fronted rock bands would seem to be such a niche genre that you wouldn't expect to find much variety in it, and even more so in the Christian market. Nevertheless, such variety does exist; barring the marvel that is Bloodlined Calligraphy (thrash metal with a female screamer), you have darkness and gloom from the likes of Flyleaf and the unfortunate Evanescence, poppier rock that was made for radio play but sounds way too safe for fans of harder music (names will not be named), and then there's in-betweeners like Fireflight and Paramore, who manage to make radio-ready pop tunes while packing in enough heaviness and lyrical integrity to draw in fans from the other side of the spectrum. Icon For Hire comes from that last camp, and given Tooth & Nail's reputation for signing more intelligent versions of what's on the radio, it's easy to see from here why the label picked them up.
Their 2008 independently released EP kicks off with "Off With Her Head," a title that makes sense in light of the rapidly sung pre-chorus, "My enemies belittle me reminding me the penalty for all my deeds despite my pleas is death." Nevertheless, frontwoman Ariel proceeds to beg, "Save Your own, 'cause I don't wanna be this/Death is mine, I know/But don't let go, Savior." Musically, Ariel's vocal melodies here would seem to mark her as a pop diva aiming for '90s radio (to the extent of some brief digital distortion on the last chorus), but that comparison is destroyed by her harshly metaphoric lyrics that should shame most emo bands, as well as the vaguely hardcore instrumentation.
"Pernilla" makes for some rather interesting variation, as it starts off with synth opening and quieter vocals and gradually builds until the hardcore feeling crops up again with one of the male band members screaming in the background "I won't break/I will not break!" Fittingly enough, the lyrics chronicle Ariel's resolve not to let a backstabber own her life, and if lyrics like "You'll bleed for what your hands have done" seem to be setting up for an emo-style hate-fest, second-verse lyrics on the order of "How damaged you must be/Watch you panic, it's tragic, you'll carry this for life/You have my sympathy" bring the emotions into biblical focus, as does the chorus's vow that "This isn't my identity." The EP closer, "Call Me Alive," starts off slow, but the band's hardcore elements are so prominent here that I'm willing to label this a post-hardcore band and take whatever complaints come from it. Lyrically, it's another plea-for-redemption song, but the band again displays their talent for breathing new life into old themes by deploying more hard-hitting verbiage ("Take my water, take my oxygen/They never could help me, I'm left just as empty tonight/I will stop at nothing less than You").
So ultimately, despite the slightly lackluster production (which is to be expected of independent first EPs), Icon For Hire employs a number of musical tricks, not the least of which is Ariel Ariel's skillful voice and hard-hitting lyrics, to stand out from soundalikes in their chosen field while utilizing the better aspects of that field. If their upcoming major label debut, Scripted, is up to par with this early material, this post-hardcore/emo act might be the signing that will restore Tooth & Nail to some of its former glory.
Review date: 6/22/11, written by Sam Miller for Jesusfreakhideout.com