Dharmata five years to polish off their debut album. What teasers they have released over the years have received plenty of regional radio airplay, scored stagetime with bands such as 10 Years, Nonpoint and Filter, and caused a certain Benji Webbe’s ears to perk up. Not only has he been bigging them up and brought his band, Skindred, over to gig with them, but he’s also had a hand here in co-producing the album.
Certainly, the songwriting, whilst being predictably structured, is
full of hooks and catchy anthems, so it’s easy to see why Radio Land has
picked them up. Plenty of the tracks are full of bounce and there are
some neat rhythmic cuts and riff bursts dotted about to suck you in.
Combine that with Jay Slim’s crisp, ostentatious and assured clarion
call of a vocal, which has a pure, old-school rock quality, and you’ve
certainly got potential. Listening closely, it’s almost like they’ve got
their stylistic sights set on hitting the point where Seether overlap with Nonpoint. The trouble though is that somewhere along the line they’ve ended up sounding more like Nickelback mocking Five Finger Death Punch mocking One-Way Mirror.
Tracks like “Outside The Lines” and “Strength In Numbers” are
classically strong, inherently catchy and breezy enough to suck us in.
It’s easy to forget that underneath those vocal barbs, it’s all a bit
bland with soft edges and very little bite. The cotton-wool, dressed-up
production, of course, doesn’t help. Those responsible souls have left
us with dampened drums, warm guitars and a reverberating bass that
smothers as it thrums. The vocal is the only thing we can actually fall
back on and even that has had too many of its rough edges sandpapered.
We end up looking to tracks like “Do It Again” and “The Awakening” to
buck the trends and, firstly, inject some grit and vitality into the
mix, and secondly, break-up the rigid verse-chorus-verse shapes and
repetitious lines. The former track leans hard on its tub-thumping
patterns, nu-metal post-production tweaks and rapped bridge for
inspiration whilst the latter explores a few darker tones whilst hinting
at something excitingly symphonic.
Undoubtedly, there’s a definite lack of ambition shown here; it’s all
a bit too safe. The crueller souls amongst you might suggest throwing
acronyms like AOR or MOR at them to see if they stick. “Love Kills” is
about as nasty and rangy as Jay Slim gets but, as an album highlight,
it’s most certainly worthy of mention. We get growls, an octave drop and
even the odd snarled passage that make it through his usual
high-register drifting. Just those few cracks in that bland veneer he’s
selling shows he’s been holding back on us. Also, listen out for some
smart little touches in “Monster” – that sudden break into a bass solo,
the short bursts of double-kick and the hints at wordplay. Oh, and let’s
not miss out the vicious 5FDP-esque
stabs of drum and guitar that swirl around “The Way”. As is often the
case, don’t stick around for the chorus; it’s just more of the same. You
can harmonise all you like, fellas, over-familiarity and drab
production has scuppered your ship.
They may be about ten, some might suggest twenty years too late to the party, but Dharmata
have absolutely got a knack for penning a solid tune. The first two
songs are proof of that and the back-half of this debut shows they do
actually have the character to take these skills to the next level. If
they cut back on the gutless, over-repetitious filler (“Where Do We Go”,
I’m looking at you) and sharpen up the production they could really
have something saleable. Surf’s up, fellas!
Also online (with samples) @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/dharmata-dharmata