Thursday, September 20, 2012

Eulogy - Alpha Omega (2012)

With schools across the country back in full swing, it is safe to say that many of you, us, them, will be at the mercy of those arbitrary grading systems that pain us so. The world of music is no different from academia, with no foreseeable way to decipher good from bad. If objectivity has no place in the review process, it is increasingly difficult to separate yourself. For Eulogy, a young outfit from Davis, California, a keen, modern approach to traditional heavy metal sounds like a sure thing. But when one piece doesn't fall in the same tier of the class, it leaves the rest of the group to lift them up. On "Alpha Omega," a failing vocal grade isn't enough to ruin the GPA of this four piece.

Opening with the title track, there is an immediate familiarity to be found, a taste of classic metal intertwined in the riffs. The bass work stands out from the rest, with sleek moves up and down the scales. Things take a slightly downward turn as the vocals enter, their tone leaving the mix feeling a bit muddled and messy. Quick to redeem, an blasting guitar solo snaps you back to Earth, winding in and out of that same twirling bass work. A chanting finish, topped with a little finger wizardry, leads you out of the old, and into the new of "The Enchanter." The instrumental tightens up here, with layers of guitar, both rhythm and lead, coming together in a crisp unity. The rhythm section holds their own, elevating the track at times. Even the vocals appear much improved, though coated with effects, finding a balance between clean singing and the instrumental beneath. It isn't off base to say the guitar work stars here, with both Zakk Thonen and Brett Worley trading their share of licks, including a big finish.

An unexpected groove dominates the early portions of "Lurid Valley," with Sam Vanderlist's bass work, reminiscent of some primus material, shining through it all. But it isn't long before the entire band joins the acts. But while the instrumental itself is strong, there is an unevenness to the levels that throws things off, if only slightly. This my be the best vocal performance on the album, though, with Worley's voice taking a more gruff tone. Not only that, but he stays within his boundaries, and lets the backing riffs do the lions share of the work. Perhaps the most inspired guitar work comes on "Defend The Mead," which has a penchant for the memorable riffs you crave. There is also a touch of lateral movement here, with the band taking on elements of thrash and power metal that were absent before. The highlight of the track comes in the gang chanting portions, backed by a thunder of drums and bass. Percussionist Rowan Mcguire comes into his own by this point, leading the band in a high energy assault on your ears.

And while "Calm Before The Storm" is exactly as advertised, it is not a throwaway. The band have a chance to show their versatility in this two minute intro, keeping it subtle and smooth. This makes the transition into "Burn The Earth" that much easier, and that much more effective. Everything has fallen into place on this track, from the punch of the kick drum, to the way the guitars fit into the mix. Worley's vocals remain a key point of contention, sounding a little too unpolished to meld seamlessly with the rest of the band. But with a bass line like the one that comes through here, it becomes less of a concern, with so much richness to be had elsewhere. The bridge section may be the best on the album, with a melody on both guitar and bass that you won't soon forget. Take that, in combination with the jazz funk bass work on "Crimson Isles," and you have a cornucopia of metal influences running wild. The vocals are hit or miss on this one, with some sections hitting the mark, and others falling flat. With fear of belaboring the obvious, Vanderlist is a dynamo, driving and controlling the flow of the track from his four string. Finishing with a pretty astute cover of the UFO song "Doctor Doctor," the band show off their appreciation of the classics.

It's tough to quantify each and every piece of an album, and turn that into a grade. There isn't a formula to make that any easier; or at least I don't know of one. So, when the task of assigning a score for Eulogy's debut album is all I have left to do, there are some complex mathematics at work. Without "showing my work," it comes down to two halves of the whole. An album like this may certainly come off as stilted, with the instrumental being far superior than the vocal. But when the music itself is excellent, that leaves you grading on a curve. With Thonen, Worley, Vanderlist, and McGuire as musicians, Eulogy don't have far to go. But without a tweak to the vocals, "Alpha Omega" proves it may be a tough time getting there.


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