City Of Fire
posted on 9/2010 By:
In the context of Fear Factory, Burton C. Bell's vocals are borderline legendary. Regardless of the band's spotty catalog, it's hard to argue against the chemistry his vocals generate; his trade-offs were once revolutionary, and his overall delivery--again, dependent on the poignancy of the material--is undeniably iconic.
This pedigree makes the forgettable nature of his other ventures somewhat bewildering. Does anyone remember him on that Geezer Butler solo album back in the day? Or how 'bout his post-Transgression digression with Ascension of the Watchers? Both were exceedingly dull, and City of Fire doesn't do much to reverse this trend.
Unlike Ascension of the Watchers, City of Fire is not Bell's brainchild. This is Byron Stroud's baby. The current FF bassist, Strapping Young Lad mainstay, and Vancouver scene legend founded this band with his former Caustic Thought cohorts. After recruiting Bell and gaining some vital support from Candlelight, these guys are no longer regional, but the music trapped in inside self-titled record betrays any greater aspirations.
City of Fire's approach is frustratingly bland. Best described as metalized grunge (ripped from early STP and mid-period Soundgarden) with random 70's tossabouts thrown in, it's an indiscriminate conglomeration of vague influences. Rather than provoke, this combination only serves to lull the listener into a state of static complacency.
The City's landscape is starving for landmarks. Halfway through, it fades irrevocably into the background. Granted, it becomes more palatable with each degree removed from the forefront of conciousness--it rivals The Sword's latest for Dishwashing Soundtrack of the Year--but it struggles mightily to command attention. Harder-edged tracks like "Carve Your Name" and "Coitus Interruptus" fall flat; the late-album "Hollow Land" is far more understated and interesting, combining some goth sensibilities with an underlying Rolling Stones swagger. Despite its intrigue, it's entirely forgettable in the long run.
Stroud and Bell are treading in lukewarm waters--it's the kind of musically unadventurous stuff that should serve as a canvas for radio-ready, post-grunge popwriting. Bold verses, armspread choruses, a sharp riff or two...that kind of thing. But nothing develops. Gears grind, wheels spin, but standouts are completely absent. In this pedestrian context, Bell's cleans become decidely ordinary. When the linchpin of the album's appeal doesn't deliver, all potential is wasted.
These shortcomings render City of Fire little more than a curiosity, aimed strictly at those enthralled by the involvement of Stroud and Bell. (Damningly, this venture by Stroud further proves Dev's supremacy in the fabled SYL pecking order, as if there were any doubt. Placed alongside Jed Simon's post-Strap boredoms, it's little wonder that SYL's most democratic effort, the self-titled, was also the most maligned.) There's nothing offensive here, by any means, but maybe that's the problem. City of Fire comes across like a bunch of tired, old dudes making tired, dull sounds. But, if you're dying to hear a mediocre grunge record that a bunch of metalheads made in their spare time, by all means, open the gates.
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