Wow, way to very nearly ruin a great album with inept vocal production! OK, now that I got that out of my system, let’s get on with this album review…
This album is one of their best. Most of the songs are simply awesome. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of A Snowcapped Romance or The Tide and Its Takers, but it comes close. The tracks are also pretty varied in intensity and tempo, which shows a maturity and diversity that 36CF wears quite well.
To start it off, Brock is simply on fire and bleeding emotion on this album. I’ve always loved his unique voice, and I consider him one of rock/metal’s top vocalists (up there with Richard Patrick of Filter and Pete Murray of Ultraspank/Lo-Pro). This album is no exception. Age has given him a little more gravel, but it hasn’t blunted his ability to cook up great hooks and belt out some heartfelt sorrow. He also has some very affecting and personal lyrics on this album, the titular track being one of several examples.
Steve Holt and recently returned bassist Mick Whitney bring some fantastic riffs to this party as well, managing to bounce between crazy heavy and achingly beautiful here with ease. Some of the more punky influences still show bit with good effect and I may have even heard a tiny, tiny bit of doom in there. Interestingly, you can also some shades of more classic rock and old school metal thrown in this time around that work surprisingly well.
New drummer Kyle Baltus rocks it. Stylistically, he feels a lot like previous drummer Thomas Noonan and that’s certainly not a bad thing. Kyle definitely does bring his own unique feel to the album through great grooves and intensity. He also manages to work in just the right flashes of style and complexity.
Now for the bad. Like the last album, Holt produced this effort, however, he also mixed and mastered this time around. For the most part, this is actually a good thing, as he nails the instrumental production and mixing with ease. That part of the album sounds great. But this man cannot consistently mix vocals or use Antares Autotune properly to save his life.
As I mentioned in the first paragraph, it very nearly ruins the album. The bulk of the vocals sound fine truthfully, but when it’s bad, it’s REALLY bad. Take the final track “Marrow.” Both vocalists on the verses, Brock and guest vocalist Stephanie Plate, sound like they belong on a T-Pain album. It honestly sounds like Holt just threw Autotune at the tracks on its default setting and forgot about it. Anyone that knows anything about Autotune knows that 1 – you can’t do that, 2 – you REALLY can’t do that with a vibrato heavy vocalist like Brock. Who listens to that and thinks “Yeah, this sounds fine.”?
Some of the vocal mix decisions equally baffling. Listen to the backing vocals on “Slivers” for example. They sound like they were samples dropped in from another album and nearly kill the whole song. They don’t fit in the song at all. And speaking of style, Holt can’t pick a uniform way to mix the vocals either. Sometimes they are right up front, sometimes they are sitting far back, sometimes they are so huge and expansive that they dominate the mix, and sometimes they are barely audible. Sometimes the freaking harmony vocals are mixed louder than the main vocal line. I don’t want to say the vocalist is entirely blameless here, but we’ve had 5 previous albums without these problems. Thankfully, the strength of the songs in general pushes through these mistakes.
Having been a huge fan of these guys since the first album I can say without reservation that this is a very, very good album from 36CF. But it could have been great, and I think that’s what bugs me the most. This could have been their second best album to date, but some really dumb and correctable issues hold it back. If you are the 36CF fan, definitely get this, you’ll love it. If you are not a fan already but you want to check this band out, I would still have to recommend starting with Snowcapped or Tide.