Charred Walls Of The Damned
Cold Winds on Timeless Days
posted on 11/2011 By:
It is very hard to experiment successfully with power / traditional / melodic metal. The genre is based on perfection, and perfection, by definition, is nailed to formula. So even when that idea is taken to its natural extremes, you almost always reach some sort of set rule, and when experimentation gives way to rule, frontier disappears. Once in a while, though vary rarely, you get something like Blind Guardian or Agent Steel or, perhaps more accurately for this situation, Nevermore. More often than not, though, you get dreck like mid-era Flotsam and Jetsam, every minor James Rivera project, and (though some may disagree), the completely imagination-less turn of Fates Warning. Charred Walls of the Damned unfortunately falls into the latter category, though, refreshingly, not for a lack of trying.
A studio-musician's-meeting-turned-B-level-supergroup, Charred Walls of the Damned is seemingly the child of two chief ideas: One, Richard Christy is a well seasoned, beyond-capable drummer who has played with -- and flourished in -- both power and death metal bands. Two, Nevermore was, at one point, both virile and successful. It's a lethal mixture, however you see it. And so the stage was set.
The player roster reads like Jon Schaffer's 1999 wet dream: Steve Digorgio, Tim “My Head Keeps Getting Square-er” Owens, Richard Christy, and Jason “That Producer No One Likes” Suecof -- consummate professionals and of studio musician quality, every one. Throughout Cold Winds on Timeless Days, every note seems planned just as it fell, every vocal melody just as it was intended. Unfortunately, where technique flourishes, creativity dulls.
The idea seems to be a reinvention of power metal, combining death metal riffing and melodic technique with more traditional sensibilities and song structure, and the results are deceptive at first. Lead single “Zerospan” opens with a chaotic introduction not out of the realms of something like modern Atheist. Production aside (and more on that later), it sounds killer -- tight, tight, playing, pleasing note choice, and the ideal chaos for modern death. Then Owens pops in.
The shame of it is: The performance is definitely not the issue. The reason Tim Owens keeps getting called for work is because he is absolutely peerless in his ability to walk into a room, hear a song, and know just what to do. However, Charred Walls of the Damned just isn't a good fit. While the production doesn't help (wait for it, trust me), his delivery and voice in general just seems to be ill-fitting. Owens demands the song to bend for him. Coming from a school of singing that would charm the ear of Jon Schaffer and Glenn Tipton, he functions on the verse riff simplifying for him, the chorus pushing his melodies, and the in-between being the spot for guitarists to really riff. While the band definitely tries their hand at that set-up, for a song to leap from technical death metal to simple, chugging, modern power metal is jarring to say the least.
The overt, sugary melodies don't help, either. Suecof, not unlike Tony Lazaro, seems to really bank on the presence of bright melodies blasting out of technical riffing. But, not unlike Tony Lazaro, he forgets that less is usually more, and he uses what should be a seasoning as a main focus. And no one likes that much goddamn nutmeg in their eggnog -- it stifles the original flavor.
What the original flavor is, exactly, is also a bit of a mystery. Lyrically, the album, almost in its entirety, seems to focus on themes of depression, hopelessness, sadness, and grief. Musically, the entire thing is in a jumpy major key, with only atonal tech passages breaking the mold. Thus, songs like “Cold Winds,” and “On Unclean Ground,” really don't land with any punch, which is a shame considering all involved parties seem to see the end result as a success.
But, the biggest misstep here seems to be the production. (See? I didn't forget.) While it's popular -- and in some cases easy -- to thrash Suecof, in this case it is completely accurate to say he did the material a disservice. While to a degree, it would be a challenge for any producer to lock in with this material, his odd back-and-forth from tight, almost claustrophobic instrumental passages to painfully airy vocal segments creates a constant disconnect within each song. This, naturally, leads to the same disconnect throughout the album, and with something as terminally experimental as Cold Winds on Timeless Days, everything just sounds messy. And messy is something that, frankly, not one of the involved musicians is noted for.
You've got to admire the idea behind Charred Walls, though. Seasoned veterans coming together to push their boundaries is a very cool thing, something other players could definitely learn from. But Cold Winds... simply doesn't work. The attempt is valid, absolutely, and if these ideas were given more time to grow, 3 or 4 albums from now, there could be a great album to speak of. As it stands though,Charred Walls of the Damned has merely a notch in their belt and a mess on their hands.
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