posted on 9/2010 By:
Slavemason’s debut LP seems to have all the elements necessary to a successful progressive heavy metal record. It’s formed from a prog-metal mold mostly akin to early Queensrÿche and Helloween, with maybe a bit of Manilla Road’s style and a heavy debt to Iron Maiden via Crescent Shield in execution. In fact, founder and vocalist, William Simpkins, at times sounds just like Michael Grant, especially when he’s harmonized. And the Maiden name drop needs to be qualified, as it’s reflected most strongly in the picked six-strings of the album’s more serene moments.
Slavemason is a wonderfully varied and dynamic piece of work, ranging in style from melodic traditional metal and doom to a bit of punky crossover, and a ton of elegant interludes. Ultimately, mood is the key to this Bellevue, WA, duo’s first offering. Its songs are driven by introspection and contemplation of such mysteries as the Freemasons and the decline of once great ancient civilizations, which provides the conceptual foundation for the album’s sprawling take on progressive metal. This all makes ideal fodder for complex works aimed at eliciting a wide range of emotion and except for the terribly nu-groovy, half-rapped and monorhymed verses of “The War,” Slavemason makes it work pretty well.
Paradoxically, the primary problem with Slavemason involves the very aspects hitherto described as its strengths. All of that focus on moodiness and mystery yields a sound that just doesn’t appear to be trying very hard. This is probably not a reflection of the band’s ethos, but likely an unfortunate artifact of the production. Nevertheless, with the exceptions of the title track and “Drafted,” the overriding atmosphere is overly subdued, rendering some really great ideas all but powerless to genuinely engage the emotion tapped early on. It’s really an odd dilemma and difficult to articulate, but it seems as if, even when the riffing and melody suggest that they’d work in theory, the result is too often deflated, sleepy, even ambivalent.
This duo’s greatest asset lies in its ability to meld simple, catchy riffs into interesting patterns of nascent progginess, but this record’s shortcomings are such that its assets serve dually as liabilities. Even so, those critical elements are there and, with time, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see Slavemason parlay their evident talent into a much more engaging record.
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