Burnt By The Sun
Heart Of Darkness
posted on 12/2009 By:
Music fans like to think of their genres of choice as purebred open markets. In self-contained worlds like underground metal, the audience’s shared sensibilities and the comparative absence of money’s corrupting influence should theoretically allow the artistic cream to rise to the top.
But in reality, a given band’s success or failure rides on luck and logistics as much as musical merit. Countless creatively promising acts have been stymied by bad luck on tour, poor promotion, unstable lineups, and the like.
New Jersey’s Burnt By the Sun, sad to say, are a perfect example. Way back in 2003, this band looked poised to sweep into metalcore’s then-competitive elite ranks. Fusing death metal’s rhythmic ballistics with political paranoia and angular riffs that sounded as though guitarist John Adubato somehow piped them in from 20 years in the future, BBTS brought intellect and intensity to a genre too often characterized by repetition and posturing.
A year later, the band dissolved—the tensions of their living and touring situations, it seemed, were too much for them. Drum virtuoso Dave Witte went on to tour with Municipal Waste, and vocalist Mike Olender shifted his focus to political activism.
The band reformed in 2005 under Adubato and bassist Ted Patterson’s guidance, but spent the next two or three years floundering, unable to put together a solid lineup. Finally, Witte and Olender returned to the fold to release a farewell album five years after BBTS’s initial demise.
And so Heart of Darkness stands largely as a testament to what this band could have been…which is frustrating, because this album kills. After all these years, Burnt by the Sun still sound ahead of their time. Like the dire wolf that stalks its cover, each of the album’s ten songs is a sleek, seamless 21st-century killing machine: catchy, unburdened by convention, and dead-set on amputating your face.
Adubato, who has long been one of the metal world’s most underrated riffsmiths, spends the disc’s 34-minute runtime delivering an absolute clinic on clever but sickening guitarwork. He packs these songs with clanging, discordant heaviness without ever forgetting his gift for bizarre rubber-band melodies. The balance and pacing of songs like “There Will Be Blood,” “Goliath” and the mind-crushing “F-Unit” prove his mastery.
But the linchpin of BBTS’s sound is the Patterson/Witte rhythm section, and they too hit it out of the park here. It’s hard not to resent Municipal Waste while listening to Heart of Darkness; Witte’s talents are put to better use here than they are by MW’s simplistic bashing. He and Patterson track the guitars perfectly through the band’s tricky-but-subtle rhythmic twists, and know to refrain from full-on blasting except during the most predatory moments of rippers like “Beacon” and “The Great American Dream Machine.” Most importantly, they have retained their ability to take a groove and drive it right the fuck through your chest, rendering even more restrained tracks like “Rust Future Primitive” claustrophobic and oppressive.
Most of the band’s “hardcore” dimension still comes from vocalist Mike Olender—not so much from his blowtorch scream as from his sense of moral righteousness. He is not a flawless frontman—his lyrical eviscerations of American complacence tend towards the preachy, and his “menacing…talking…that builds! To! SCREAMING!!!” dynamic shifts usually flop. Overall, though, his brutal delivery and palpable conviction are irreplaceable boons for this band.
Burnt By the Sun’s members have mentioned during interviews that they hoped to recapture the fine points of their first two full-lengths and their early EP's all at once on Heart of Darkness, and that’s exactly what they’ve done here. The only quibble I can think of is with Eric Rachel’s production, which is a tad bit dry, but otherwise this album is totally airtight. As the first decade of the millennium draws to a close and the metalcore wave rolls back, one can only wonder what direction the style might’ve taken under more influence from bands like Burnt by the Sun. This band will be much missed.
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