posted on 7/2006 By:
In a lot of ways, Threat Signal is the quintessential modern metal act. Hailing from Canada, this band is another of those straight-to-the-top internet phenoms that’ve been cropping up more and more often over the past few years; they didn’t even establish a full lineup until earlier this year but thanks to their demo’s wild success at garageband.com they’ve already secured a deal with Nuclear Blast and all of the accompanying label support. Like the vast majority of widely popular up-and-coming headbangers, Threat Signal jigsaw their sound together from the innovations of past masters—Meshuggah, Strapping Young Lad, and Fear My Thoughts-esque metalcore in this case—while grafting a more commercially palatable skin to the riffing. And again, Threat Signal bear a distinct similarity to more established American peers like Shadows Fall, Killswitch Engage and Lamb of God. They are a band who suffers slightly from their confused sound; they must ultimately choose to focus their immense musical talents on either the pummeling riffage or their chorus-oriented pop tendencies.
I must admit, I was rather excited the first time I hit play on Under Reprisal. “Rational Eyes” brings the album roaring to life with a very pleasing start-stop polyrhythmic riff sequence that reminds heavily of—who else?—Meshuggah. The atonal guitar convulsions are lent extra weight and texture by a super-lush production courtesy of Christian Olde Wolbers (Fear Factory). Although a little too clean and sterile for my tastes, the more dedicated Nuclear Blast crowd will probably lose their shit over the precision and attention to detail Wolbers provides, and that’s worthy enough of praise on its own. In any case, “Rational Eyes” is thrashing along intensely when all of a sudden vocalist Jon Howard does the patented modern-metal style shift. His base harsh vocals are a distinctly Howard Jones-esque howl, but when he and the band hit a clean chorus, he approximates…Chester Bennington backed up by barber-shop-quartet vocal harmonies? Now, there’s plenty of bands who I’d expect that from, but not one that throw as much weight around as Threat Signal does. It’s certainly disconcerting—well done and very addictive, mind, but still off-putting—and the shift is a little too jarring to work in the band’s favor.
The follow-up track “As I Destruct” walks a similar path, plus an even better Meshuggah riff and the first of Kyle McKnight’s baroque guitar shredfests, but from there on out Under Reprisal takes a slightly different route. “One Last Breath” is a blistering straightforward metalcore cut that’s interrupted by a VERY Linkin Park chorus; Mr. Howard sings “Fear/So far away/It’s burning on the inside/I am so cold” before more McKnight pyrotechnics and a chugga breakdown. Eesh. “Seeing Red” and “Inane” see the polyrhythm tech-metal play return, “Now” is a headbanging metal anthem complete with call-and-response prechorus, and the impressive thrashing gets cranked back up on “Faceless,” but the really interesting track from the bunch is “Counterbalance.” This, presumably, is Threat Signal experimenting with the more commercial part of their sound. Jon Howard substitutes his nu-metal-fueled singing voice on the verses rather than the traditional screamed-verse-sung-chorus dichotomy, and the song’s heavily harmonized chorus is sugary enough to have an almost pop-emo feel to it. McKnight unleashes his impressive, flowing leads at every opportunity, and Marco Bressette and George Parfitt’s super-tight rhythm section takes a step away from the limelight. It’s not a track that will be looked kindly upon by more extremity-oriented metalheads, but I haven’t the slightest question that it will absolutely wreck the MTV2 set. It’s superbly executed and different enough from its obvious peers to make a lasting impression.
So Threat Signal can slam and rage with the best of’em, but they also won't contend with the big-chorus crowd. The question is, which will they choose? Metal’s rising popularity and the draw of big money and big crowds suggests that these dudes will go with the latter rather than just being the band that Mnemic and Raunchy wanted to be, and that’s fine so long as they make a choice. For now, though, the world is Threat Signal's oyster. A little stylistic indecision doesn’t change the fact that this is a mega-gifted band that’s still on its way up.
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