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Monday, April 16, 2012

Album Review: Heart Of A Coward – Hope & Hindrance

Back when were a raw old-school thrash-cum-metalcore tour-de-force; back when Jamie Graham was crushing all with his death metal vocal and his uncanny ability to work a crowd into a frenzy, no-one could have foreseen just how musically far apart the band and their frontman could end up. Now, without him on board, have honed their thrashier roots into a more technical, more melodic, altogether glossier end product, and seemingly stand worlds apart from the band that Graham has now joined, . And yet, here amongst the mathematical grousing of the guitars, the portentous breakdowns and Graham’s indignant howls, there are moments where the singer steers his voice back to a familiar nagging attack to match his new bandmates’ switch up to swaggering ‘core or shredded thrash; he’s definitely moved away from, but clearly hasn’t forgotten, his roots.

’s debut album has been almost two years in the making, with the band jumping through more hoops than a San Diego dolphin, but at last the finished product is upon us and it certainly seems keen to impress. Let’s just say Hope & Hindrance (a clear reference to their multiple tribulations), covers many, many bases. Take “Shade”, which grabs at a piece of everything leaving the track bulging with content. The shadow: the spitting bellow of Graham’s “You’re nothing but a fucking traitor / Suffer, bitch”. The sparkling ray of light: his soaring cleans (re-recorded by Graham after original second vocalist Timfy James left mid-recording) – “What have you become? / You’re nothing.”

More shade. There’s that aforementioned, antagonistic thrash, plenty of gang chanting trying to wedge itself into your memory banks and maniacal progressions a-plenty; progressions of the sort that seem happy pitching Graham’s thick death vocal into wailing guitar, and that into epic soundscaping. Follow that up with some -esque hammer, as palm-muted battery meets Graham’s agonized, lycanthropic baying, for “Nightmare” and you’ve stumbled on the album’s dark heart. Of course, that all walks hand in hand with the hardcore fury, gang chants and crushing breakdowns that lurk within the monumental crush of “Around A Girl (In 80 Days)” and the first four machine-gunned minutes of “Break These Chains” (before it fully loses the plot for the remaining three and resorts to the equivalent of a slowly-recycling brick in a tumble dryer over a looped playback of Jean-Michel Jarre’s Oxygene).

More sparkle. There’s the twinkling riff that melts the heart of the title-track and the sudden bursts of -ish dappling that fall at regular intervals throughout, mostly when you least expect them. Also, the dedicated ambient wash that the, appropriately titled, “Light” offers and the soft-touch melodics that litter the crystalline, wickedly-barbed choruses of “All Eyes To The Sky” and “We Stand As One”. I’m still struggling to believe how well Graham combines that mellifluous clean tone into the impressively cantankerous grot that more regularly flies from his gob, but for some reason it all seems to gel effectively.

Word of warning: this album definitely needs a fat-assed sub-woofer and plenty of volume to really blossom. I discover this after listening to it for the first week with naff iPod ear buds. Imagine my surprise then when I finally run it through my big-balled sound system. The opening rumble of “Motion” (this may have been retitled “Killing Fields” by the time you get it) makes the crockery rattle before dashing it all to the ground as Graham’s scarred roar kicks in. And, with the line “Smoke, mirrors, we won’t get out a-LIVE! We won’t get out a-LIVE! We’ll never be the S-A-A-A-AME”, I’m in pieces with the china.

Certainly, Hope & Hindrance is eager to please. Of course, the problem with all this to-ing and fro-ing between stylistic content is that the music takes a long time to bed in. It’s certainly a grower this one. I’ve been playing with it for a couple of weeks now and I still haven’t found its true value. It’s got heart, though, and like the recently-released debut by , it’s bursting with potential. Yes, this baby packs more punch than a Klitschko brother and the balance between its light and dark sides is, pretty much, bang on. Sure, there’s still plenty of rough edges, fine and dandy for a debut, but if they can tighten their belts and nail the songwriting by upping the riffage quotient, applying a touch more gusto to the choruses and giving their vessel a more purposeful sense of direction, they’ll be true lionhearts in this reviewer’s eyes.

Note: This is an edited version of my review, following the release of a PR statement regarding the recording of the album. The original appears online @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/heart-of-a-coward-hope-hindrance

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