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Album Review: TBA

Monday, May 23, 2011

Album Review: Seether - Holding On To Strings Better Left To Fray

are one of those bands that flirt dangerously with a time-worn archetype. They don’t make things easy on themselves by attempting to blur the edges a little with a dose of sass, a dollop of heavy, and a portion of oddball. Like kids following the kerb they teeter flirtatiously along the edges of the bog-standard hard rock mould; one wobble to the right, they find the path and get criticised for bandwagoning, one wobble to the left, they fall into the road and get lambasted for moving away from the music that built their fanbase, away from everything they clearly hold so dear. They know this and we know that they know this. A quick glance at their recent album titles Finding Beauty In Negative Spaces and, here, Holding On To Strings Better Left To Fray is proof enough.

Consider that this band started life under the grim moniker (a name that evokes images of Tolkien’s “stench of Mordor”) and combine this with the fact they come from the ass-end of Africa, and you can see they’ve not had it as easy as it first appears. At this point, they couldn’t really have been much further from the location or one-word cool of the radio-friendly rock bands (, , , , , etc.) that they coveted. Thankfully, once they signed to Wind-Up Records, they moved to the US and stepped into line, calling themselves for their sophomore effort. Now that feels much better already, right?

Knowing this, you won’t be surprised when you hear this new album’s first single, “Country Song”. It has banjo, tambourine and twang-heavy harmonies swept into the mix (a far cry from the wobbleboard and didgeridoo of 2007′s “No Jesus Christ”) as lay down the final piece to fulfill their American dream – that “chink, chink” sound is of spurs being earnt. It’s actually a nifty, uncluttered attempt to create a sense of that huddled campfire camaraderie that comes from journeying alone across a forboding wilderness.

Cutting to the chase, the band still court that washed-out vocal style and minimalist drums for the verses before catapulting you into the chorus with all guns blazing. It’s always in four-four time there’s always a middle eight, and there’s always, always a ballad for the laydeez. You couldn’t get more formulaic if you tried. But then, when a band grooves like a bastard and carves straight to the bone, you can’t help but develop a face-splitting grin. They can shit-kick with the best of them when they rage and yet they can soften up into babies when they want to. So while, “Down” lurches back and forth like a drunk in a moshpit and “Desire For Need” decapitates us with razor-wire by illiciting a vast neck-jerking action using some seriously dirty strings, the opposing forces of “Here And Now” and “Master Of Disaster” perform the most delicate of emotion-laced soft-shoe shuffles. The star turn here is “No Resolution” which gives us a chunky, fat riff, fuzzed-up chords and a bollock-load of top-end bass with a hooked chorus that blows Finding Beauty‘s “Rise Above This” out of the water.

It’s not all easy-going though. The album squeezes out way too many slow numbers and, inevitably, crumbles when placed next to the vehement brilliance of their back catalogue (yes, the homogenized production of Brendan O’Brien strikes again). They get a slow shake of the head for employing the old trick of a disguised swear as a song-title (let’s hope they weren’t familiar with ’ “Far Q” when they named “Fur Cue”). And then, to cap it all, they miss the mark by a million miles with “Tonight” as they attempt to match for rock chops yet end up sounding duller than ditchwater. It’s unimaginitive, blueprint songwriting that feels constricted by design – you can count in every damnable pause, mundane chug and hateful drumbeat. Ditto “Pass Slowly” which is quite possibly the most effective anaesthetic I’ve ever come across. Herein lies the problem with this tightrope they continually walk along. One slip, and they’re in freefall.

To counteract all this pussyfooting around, we have the excellently -esque “Roses” with its dark, minor chords, a vocal that occasionally stretches for the sky, and a sinister chorus that contains the line “Save me, even as you break me, every time you rape me”. Oh, and check that huge stoner riff at its climax. This track alone proves there’s still so much untapped promise here. One day, fingers crossed, will lay a grenade of an album down and our perceptions will all be scattered to kingdom come. Until that day arrives, we’ll have to content ourselves with the fact that their killer always comes with filler.

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