Under the Spell
posted on 8/2011 By:
Portland’s Spellcaster is a new act that likes to walk the tight rope between tried-and-true and tired-and-true, merging influences such as Iron Maiden, Metal Church, and Armored Saint into a fairly effective trad/thrash combo. Debut long player Under the Spell contains a few songs – and even more song sections – that are quite thrilling, but overall reveals a young band that is a few adjustments short of really making a splash.
After a well done intro, “Chainsaw Champion” bursts out in glorious fashion with one damned infectious chorus, a well placed solo section, and an overall sense that the band knows how to get things done. It gives off the impression that Under the Spell is going to be one wickedly fun retro ride throughout its duration. However, for much of the rest of the album, Spellcaster finds a way to be almost completely… standard. There is an immediate drop in both the quality of the songs and the band’s apparent fire; not a drastic drop, but enough to where it is noticeable and even distracting.
The problem here isn’t that Spellcaster is bad at what they’re doing, or even that they’re too reliant on their influences. The problem, more often than not, is that they sound like a damn good band performing and writing below their ability (or more accurately, their potential). Riffs are well executed, but mostly fail to offer anything inventive. (The “hook” in “Locked On” falls on its face.) The rhythm parts in particular tend to fade out of memory once a song ends. Vocalist Thomas Adams has a warm and clean delivery and is obviously naturally gifted, but far too often holds back. As a result, there are several key moments – such as the choruses of “Power Rising” and “Molten Steel” – when Adams ends up sounding thin or even slightly out of tune when he should be utilizing his full lung capacity to really belt it out.
On the flipside are the aspects that turn Under the Spell into a kind of “very listenable ordinary.” Guitarists Tyler Loney and Cory Boyd support these 36 minutes through several shreddy solos, often within well-designed bridge sections. In addition, vocalist Adams has a knack for penning a memorable melody, even if he comes across as a mite unrefined, and sounds particularly good when revealing a bit of attitude. Spellcaster’s good side is fully displayed on the closing eponymous track. It is here where Adams brings that aforementioned ‘tude (complete with falsetto screams) while the guitars send the album off with the best-written harmonies of the bunch. It is a wickedly great jam that, together with “Chainsaw Champion,” helps to realize the band’s potential. However, both may actually bookend the album with deceptively strong material that the rest can’t quite stand up to.
Overall, Under the Spell is a promising debut by a band that could really be onto something with just a few small tweaks and refinements. Nearly every aspect of Spellcaster’s sound is an almost there type of situation. As they exist today, they can be counted amongst the numerous acts providing an enjoyable if inessential foray into time-honored tradition.
…if Under the Spell really is this ordinary, why the holy hell can I not get it out of my head?
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