posted on 12/2005 By:
Well, here’s something a little different. Last time I encountered Salem, the Israeli act were a middling-quality death metal band that couldn’t seem to decide whether they wanted to go the ethno-metal route of countrymen Orphaned Land or attempt to excel by virtue of traditional metallic songcraft alone. Strings Attached, if nothing else, casts the band in a completely fresh light. This disc is composed primarily of previously released tracks, but re-recorded with the accompaniment of the “critically acclaimed” (the band’s website makes very sure to mention this at every opportunity) string quartet ICSQ. Salem has rearranged their material to this end; gone are the frequent blastbeats, guitar interplay, and gimmicky instrumental breaks. The band has largely abandoned the mores and methods of speedy death metal in favor of a more moderated, symphonic approach. The results are…well, middling-quality, and decidedly more towards the unfriendly side of middling than their previous output. The strategy is there and it’s not half-bad, but Salem almost completely whiff in the tactical department.
It’s clear from the outset that Salem are trying very hard to snag a piece of the “visionary genre-benders” pie. Opener “A Moment of Silence” (adapted from the title track of a previous album) sees the band throwing everything they have onto the field; they employ their full compliment of string instruments, sandy clean guitar lines, semi-chanted male vox, choral hooks, shredding solos, and more or less every other musical device that wasn’t bolted to the floor. The diverse range of instruments and styles on display is impressive, but the track’s jumbled flow is not. Salem fortunately refrain from trying to cram all of their musical widgets into most of Strings Attached’s cuts, but the first track sends a lamentably clear message: “We’re Salem and isn’t it great that we can have a string quartet AND a choir in the same death metal song?”
It doesn’t help that the guest musicians noticeably outperform the band itself. ICSQ is clearly an extremely talented group and the choir that appears sporadically throughout the album (“Ha'ayara Bo'eret,” “Coming End of Reason”) generates the album’s most melodically interesting segments. Salem themselves, by contrast, have suffered from the structural adjustments. The band’s previous output featured competent death metal drumming and some moderately clever guitar lines. What’s left over are plenty of plodding, sparse beats and a deplorable selection of sub-Carnal Forge stock thrash riffs. The band is obviously trying to take a step back so as to allow the strings and guest vocalists more of the spotlight, but they’ve largely neutered themselves in the process. Ze'ev Tananboim’s vocals, meanwhile, are just as forced and underpowered as they were on previous albums. The sum total of these ingredients is a collection of cool songwriting ideas mushed together and left unsupported by metal’s meat and potatoes: the guitar riff.
And the really accursed part of it all is that Salem actually make it work once and a while, and when they do it’s pretty damn good. Case in point: the album’s first rendition of “Old Wounds,” on which the band, strings, choir, and accompanying circus and sideshow all click together for five and a half glorious minutes. Opening with a genuinely creepy choral arrangement, the song sees Salem play some riffs that actually maintain the listener’s interest, bounce the strings off of the metallic structures without burying either component, and perhaps most importantly, finally step up the tempo a bit. The band sounds a thousand times more confident when they increase to a mere gallop, to say nothing of thrash tempos or blastbeats.
But one song worth of strong material and a few scattered motes of brilliance aren’t enough to save an entire album, and Strings Attached is largely an exercise in patience (and an ungodly long one, too; the album sports an hour-plus run time). I, of course, admire this band’s audacity, but this is a simple case of overreaching one’s self. Salem earn five points for developing the concept behind this album and for accumulating the resources and personnel required to record it, but lose ten for failing to capitalize on an interesting idea and for disappointing listeners once again.
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