The widespread success of Christian metal is surprising to say the least. Considering the Christian community`s general reaction to metal in its inception, I doubt anyone will say they saw it coming. At any rate, a vast majority of bands at the forefront have sprung from the versatile Solid State Records. Supplying the likes of Demon Hunter, Gwen Stacy, and The Chariot, the label has always kept a varied roster. There`s something for everyone. Whether you call all of it metal or not, any fan of loud music will find something they enjoy. Filling in the cracks of all metal sub-genres seems to be their latest quest, having recently signed As They Sleep and To Speak of Wolves to expand their range yet further. But for now, we can focus on the former Greensboro, North Carolina group, and their debut full-length release Myself < Letting Go.
The catchy chorus that opens "Darkness Often Yields the Brightest Light" very quickly gets me excited for a fun album. And that's just what Myself < Letting Go is. It's a fun album that is built on obvious characteristics from bands like Underoath and Saosin, but it warps them with new colours that make an enjoyable experience. The first big compliment to give is how well the music is all mixed. Nothing is too loud; nothing is dominated by a louder instrument. To start, there's a very crisp scream over low, chord-dominant guitar, but in the chorus, one of the guitarists takes the role of melodic stringsman. Then the noise subsides for an early bridge of silky singing and slides effectively into another hammerdown. TSoW seems to know something about how to transition neatly. Instead of dropping into a clean section immediately after a heavy crunch, they take baby steps from Sound A to Sound B.
The thing with TSoW is the trouble of pinpointing where to place their sound. It's easy enough to call them metal, but they do things a little differently. The style they're playing is nothing new; plenty of bands have done it before, but each little piece is played slightly off kilter. The guitars are a no brainer: low growling riffs and ugly chords. But then the ugly chords are strangely melodic, though this is comparable to Underoath. Fine. But the drums don't match. There are no breakdowns or blast beats, and the tempo never gets much faster than the occasional jump on the second kick pedal. It's not just a matter of an unskilled drummer though. Phil Chamberlain conjures a lot of lightly oddly-timed or unconventional beats that make up for the speed and power of a general metal drummer.
Moving on to Rick Jacobs, an exceptional vocalist, providing what is easily the piece of TSoW that most differs them from other similar projects. He is responsible for all of the vocals on the album, which frankly baffles me. The clean vocals in nearly every track sound as if they came from a different person than the last. So he has a fine clean vocal range, which is strange since his screams are fairly limited, but the best part is how he uses it. It's easy to predict a melodic singing section coming, however, the melody always comes out much differently than is expected, causing an almost ghostly impression that catches you off guard. The choruses of "You Should Have Locked Your Doors Days Ago" and "Dimming the Light" are marvelous examples of this. The heavy areas of their music aren't all that unheard of. It's the unorthodox melodic tones in the mild areas that set them apart. Yet at the same time, if you took out the metal, the music would not survive. The two must be together to complement each other so effectively.
"White Dress, Red Letter" comes out as a very interesting track. It opens up a little typically with an overused drum fill, but once the chorus swings around, I felt a quiver in my spine. And the piano added near the end is quite haunting. The eerie melodies they piece together aren't all their own, but are nevertheless difficult to write well. Myself < Letting Go is by no means a bright album, but there is confidence in the music. "Quercus Alba" is the oddball of the album. The first half of the track hosts an old ragtime vocal ensemble featuring Underoath front man Spencer Chamberlain (brother to drummer Phil Chamberlain) that honestly sounds like something Jonezetta or Showbread would come up with. It could say a lot about future experiments the band may attempt in their music.
To Speak of Wolves is a band that spreads out their deepest emotions in their music. They play the kind of music that can be enjoyed more than most, unspoiled by ulterior ambitions. While it`s no magical formula for a brand new metal style (which will likely never be found), To Speak of Wolves certainly carries a flavour that Solid State didn't previously offer. And just as a band in the midst of all others similar to it, it`s fairly original to its kind. Fans of Underoath, Saosin or Burden of a Day should agree with Myself < Letting Go, but if you want specifics, then anyone digging Destroy the Runner`s I, Lucifer should appreciate TSoW even more. It may be an acquired taste, though I encourage multiple listens before final judgment is called.
- Review date: 5/16/10, written by Wayne Reimer of Jesusfreakhideout.com