Release DetailsLABEL Victory
RELEASED ON 9/5/2006
The Black Maria
A Shared History of Tragedy
posted on 10/2006 By:
Fair warning, this ain’t anything close to metal, but Victory sent this so it’s fair game. Disclaimer over.
Alt’ rock music has, for me at least, revealed itself to be a genre with some truly great vocalists who have firm grasps of manipulation of melody, tone, and near-perfect pitch. I’m not talkin’ the Flaming Lips, mind you (blech!). The type of progressive alt’ punk/ melodic rock The Black Maria attempts on A Shared History Of Tragedy is almost totally vocally-driven, and you really gotta’ be careful when trying to pull off music featuring the vocal arrangements as the main attraction so that the overall songwriting doesn’t equate to soundtrack filler.
The songcraft aesthetic found on …Tragedy is based in vibe more than riffs and major guitar interludes, and there are many piano sections thrown in for good measure. When things aren’t so ballad-ish, The Black Maria goes for a more traditional kind of non-core modern hard rock, with a slight Cave In, almost Foo Fighters flair. Some of it reminds me of Life Of Agony’s fantastic Broken Valley release with a Killswitch Engage sense of melody. Unfortunately the band’s strongest point is also it’s weakest in the form of vocalist Chris Gray, who is the star of this album.
Getting back to what I started to say about music dominated by vocals, Gray has a fairly nondescript voice that he can still do a lot with, and at times completely rules over the events when the music itself really needed to step up and bring the full effect of the songwriting to fruition. At other times when guitars fade and piano re-enters reminiscent of Kenna’s New Sacred Cow, Chris sings very plain lines with as much flavor as he can muster like a genius, naturally talented painter trying to stretch his creativity with only two basic, flat colors. This unbalanced prioritizing of some of the tracks, structurally, tends to lessen the impact of otherwise good songs in a way that I found to be overly ambitious, and incomplete.
When things aren’t on the more pedestrian side, Gray really lays down some excellent vocals, such as the chorus of “A Call To Arms”, acoustic closer “11:11”, and the beautiful “Van Gogh”. There are tunes like “The Concubine” and “Living Expenses” where the music and vocals really tend to come together for support and give a fuller feeling to the album overall. This album is actually very well made, doesn’t get too screamy when the limited aggression does come out, but still lacks that certain something special to make the band stand out among their peers, at least for now. I think it’s a refreshing change of pace for Victory to go in a non-emo direction with a more traditional alt’ rock band since it shows a hint of the diversity the label occasionally surprises us with. If you’re a fan of this kind of music, there’s really not a whole lot to hate on A Shared History Of Tragedy, but unless you’re already a fan of the other bands I mentioned above, just keep on walkin’ because The Black Maria isn't for you.
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