: Chasing the DreamArtist
: Skull FistGenre
: Heavy MetalYear
Heavy metal. It means a lot of things to a lot of different people. For some, it's a catch-all term for any and all loud, angry music with distorted guitars, lots of solos, aggressive drumming and a weird subculture of fashion that seems to involve only denim, leather and spikes. For others, heavy metal means a specific type of metal, different from all other forms of metal, with its own sounds, themes and musical lineage. It conjures the image and sound of bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest (or perhaps Samson, Angel Witch, Jameson Raid and Tygers of Pan Tang, among others, for the connoisseurs). Unfortunately, this is a sound now mostly consigned to the history books, with only the older bands still flying the flag. Thank God then, for the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal, a movement of upcoming bands who take it upon themselves to hearken back to that golden age of metal. Some do it spectacularly, like the mighty White Wizzard. And it is to this re-invigoration that Canadian band Skull Fist are pledged.
However, with taking on the mantle of the genre comes a certain set of expectations about your band's music. We, as fans, expect awesome guitar work - and Skull Fist deliver. We, as fans, expect a powerful back line, with pulsing drums and driving bass and hopefully the odd fills from both - and Skull Fist deliver. We, as fans, expect lyrics dripping in machismo and creativity, possibly about challenging people to fights, victory in fights and something at least vaguely related to themes you'd find in any given fantasy novel - and Skull Fist deliver. And we, as fans, expect above all an amazing vocalist, who never threatens to slip into growls (which are wonderful but they have their place and that place is not traditional heavy metal), who can go from regular singing to ear-curdling, head-splitting wailing that cause us all to throw the horns as had as we can. Above all, they must be real - that must be the singer actually singing and if they can't do that live God help them. Don't. Use. Autotune.
Ah, you're looking a little sheepish there Skull Fist. You looked away for a second then. Why? I mean, come on, you guys are standing up for heavy metal. You didn't? Don't tell me you did? A little? But that's bad enough! But you know, your music is superb and it all fits together nicely and sounds pretty awesome, as long as you didn't saturate your entire bloody album in enough bloody autotune to make a pop producer blush then I'm sure it'll be just about passable...
Chasing the Dream is Skull Fist's second album, following on from 2011's Head of the Pack. It disappointed me. Severely. I didn't think that was possible. I mean, when I went into the album I literally knew nothing about Skull Fist, other than the fact that Wikipedia told me they're a metal band trying to recapture the classic heavy metal sound. Sounds fine to me, that's a good thing. The album begins, the guitars start up on Hour to Live, the opener. Not bad. Actually, pretty good. Yeah, this is going well. And in come vocals. Ah. Not to my taste. High-pitched, but sounding slightly forced, maybe a little lacking in substance. I've certainly heard worse vocals, but I've definitely also heard much better. At best, they're slightly sub-par, lacking the power of the great metal vocalists. Suddenly, at the edge of hearing, a familiar, telltale mechanical and tinny edge to the vocals. Nah, can't be autotune, this is heavy metal. Whatever, the next track is up. Ok, Bad for Good. It's much the same as before, great music, so-so vocals and then bang! Falling with an audible clunk, like a keyboard falling down a flight of stairs, the chorus is laden with autotune. It is metaphorically dripping with it. And that is offensive. If you cannot sing, don't. If you need autotune, especially if it's that obvious and overdone, then don't bloody sing. Because you can't. Sorry, but no. It's either that or the vocalist of Skull Fist genuinely produces naturally autotuned vocals, in which case I feel so sorry for him. Neither possibility helps the album.
And so begins a theme with Chasing the Dream. Great music, wonderful guitarwork, spectacular solos, fantastic drumming, solid bass. Easily the standout track is Shred's Not Dead, a 3 minute instrumental demonstrating everything I mentioned above and blissfully free of singing. Some of the other tracks in the middle of the album - Call of the Wind, Sign of the Warrior - feature passable singing but nothing on the album stands out as brilliant as a whole. Were the album entirely instrumental, it might be a fantastic album. But, alas, it is neither of these things. And, to make matters worse, right after Shred's Not Dead, the final track, Mean Street Rider, begins with a heavily autotuned vocal line. It sounds abysmal. Appalling. Disappointing.
It's a real shame. The vocals mar what should be a superlative album. They stick out so much that they completely distracted me from the rest of the album. The all too brief moments where there were no vocals I could feel myself falling into the album, enveloped by the masterful music on display from four clearly incredibly talented musicians. If they found a new vocalist I'd be right behind them, pushing them alongside bands like White Wizzard (who I mentioned earlier, who have had a series of blisteringly good vocalists and who you should definitely listen to) but until they do I cannot recommend anyone listen to them.
Best Song: Shred's Not Dead
Worst Songs: Bad For Good, Mean Street Rider
You can find this review and the others I've stuck on the Escapist over here on my blog.