Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sam Locke - Crossing The Barrier (2012)

Through our reviews, we have explored the continent of Australia many times. And no one act has resonated with us as much as Sam Locke has. Through the razor sharp riffs of his initial EP, "Era," we were introduced to a musician that wasn't content to sit back and let the world find him. Soon after, the opening track to that offering became the first track on our sampler. And now, not even twelve months later, a full length album has begun to cross the globe. With nine tracks of inspired, sweat inducing guitars, drums, and keys on "Crossing The Barrier," this Aussie export is ready to go global.

The opening track, "Preface," is exactly that, a foreword to the impending book. Locke brings a noticeably grittier touch to his riffs this time out, without losing any of the feverish pacing and delivery. The drums have come back tighter than before, with the slight imperfections of the "Era" EP worked out. Case in point, the all out assault you hear in "Divide And Resolve." Rapid kick snare combos are the fitting partner for the lead melody that he lays down, one that touches on near blackened tones throughout. The continued theme is being uptempo, without sacrificing tone or his deadly accuracy. The solo section shows a tremendous evolution, with a controlled, but intricate piece of layered shredding. Even as he works from bridge to outro, there isn't a slip up in sound or flow, with Locke changing easily back and forth between the low end chugging and the more intense picking.

With songwriting like that on "Secondary Fires," you get to see a more focused musician. His guitars take over the lead vocal position, screeching and wailing through verse and chorus. There are different styles and time signatures at play, all merging into one solid form. The track is like multiple personalities, learning to get along and play nice. One moment, you are buried in syncopated chords, distorted and heavy, and the next minute you are floating on a bed of smooth melody. The addition of a soft, choral chant in the opening measures of "Prelude To Nothing" is a welcomed surprise, a key bit of versatility. Short bursts like this one are keys to either gaining, or throwing away, momentum. With the structure in place, the almost folk pacing is the perfect welcome to the sludgy "Inconsequential." Winding picked melodies sit atop distorted guitars, followed so closely by a sweet piano that it may catch you off guard. There are so many tiny intricacies to take in, whether it be in the muted guitar picks, or the blitz of drums. With each shift, you are hit with elements new and old, but arranged and pieced together in such a way, that they always come out sounding fresh and vibrant. The latter half of this track most closely resembles his previous work, but taken well beyond where he left off, including the tickling of the ivories in the outro.

That piano feature makes it's way into "A Descent Into Winter," and provides the foundation for the entire track. This might be the best showcase of Sam Locke, the growing musician. He takes a track in the five minute range and continually turns it upside down, adding and removing puzzles pieces, and replacing them with others. The stop/start parts work to perfection, especially with drum fills going into and coming out of silence. And despite the more upbeat tone that may inhabit the majority of the track, there is definitely something for fans of heavy guitars lurking in the second half. It's as if Locke took the tenets of thrash, and threw them into a blender with a spoonful of melody, and a dash of futuristic keys. He takes it up a notch on "Squared," giving you something to swing your hair to, while, at the same time, building up the more atmospheric sections with little effort. He transitions seamlessly into a solo that reminds you that this guy is a guitar player extraordinaire, running the neck of his guitar like starving man picks a chicken bone clean.

The final two tracks are parts of the same whole, both bearing the "Crossing The Barrier" name. Part 1 begins with a light, airy piano piece, one that calms the nerves while simultaneously building the mood. The slight electronic touches are surprisingly noticeable, and well conceived. But the low rumble that leads you into part 2 is an axe through that baby grand, complete with machine gun snares and thunderous kicks. This finale sees Locke at his punchy best, with each riff, every note pouring from the speakers with pin point precision. The beauty is in his ability to craft multiple layers, stacked together, in a distorted harmony. As his rhythm guitar keeps the tempo at a blazing pace, his lead riff kicks it into overdrive. The drums are absolutely tenacious, programmed or not. Locke repeated climbs the scales over a sea of percussion. A short clean, melodic passage starts the process all over again, allowing things to build from scratch back to the red hot gun barrel.

Being a musician is about writing, creating, and performing. Yes, those three things seem simple enough in theory. If you are AC/DC, you wrote once, and just stayed the course for 25 years. But that isn't what Sam Locke has done. The "Era" EP  was a masterful piece of work at the time, especially for a one man band. But what he has done here is discarded the very notion that he is a single man. Through his music, the many layers of sound he has developed, he is doing the work that six piece outfits could never achieve. In short, Sam Locke has taken the next logical step with "Crossing The Barrier": he got that much damn better.


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