Friday, January 11, 2013

Unbowed - Unbowed (EP) (2013)

There is always a major difference in bands who do it for the love of the game, and those who are looking to get fame and notoriety. In an industry that is flooded with the latter, however futile that pursuit is, it is always refreshing to find some of the former. Canadian six piece Unbowed fit squarely into that category, playing an uptempo variety of metal that is just as easy to listen to as some of the more mainstream acts of today. This isn't about money or fame, something that is evident throughout their debut EP; they play the music that comes naturally, a modern mix of thrash and melodic death metal where storytelling is just as important as the deathly growls that become the vessel. And despite a few minor glitches in production and mixing, this five track offering is bigger than you would expect.

An expected injection of rich symphonic opens "Shadow Of Dark Decay," joined soon after by a bevy of heavy instruments. There is a noticeable groove in the guitar work, separating it from standard death metal fare. However, an uneven mix leaves the guitar riffs falling somewhat flat in the pecking order. Overpowered by the orchestral elements and devastating drums in the chorus, they fall to the back of the line. Vocalist Ioan Tetlow asserts his dominance every step of the way, particularly with his scream that bridges verse to chorus. "March Of The Giants" is exactly that; a larger than life death metal stomp that is sure to ignite the smallest flame. A basic, downtempo chugging session allows Tetlow to spin his tale, a skill that is on display in the lyrical quality. This is a full band effort led by some great keyboard work, courtesy of Connor MacPherson. But to say that the drumming is relentless doesn't do it justice. Forming the backbone of this melodic death style, Nick Lennox proves to be a force here. If there was a single track that could be used to bring you over to the dark side, "Gwyn Ap Nudd" might just be that track. Between the crushing guitar riffs and the flowing synthesizers, it is both aggressive and accessible, a combination that is hard to come by. The track continually walks the fine line between viking and black metal, all with a deep seeded melody.

Don't fall into too deep a trance at the light beginnings of "The Prophecy Foretold," despite lightly strummed guitars and keys. The initial blast of distortion will knock you backwards, setting into motion a stampede of thrashing guitars and drums. It would be so easy to get lost in all of the great musicianship on display, but don't make the mistake of ignoring the vocal lies and lyrics. Woven into each gritty scream and growl is a story that you would be sorry to miss; one that is of battle and victory. That entire air of triumph is captured so well in the outro section here, reinforcing the strength of the writing process. And despite the fact that you can't actually bend space and time, no matter what Doctor Who tells you, "As Winter Claims My Soul" is a four minute track tat seems to fly by in a matter of seconds. The main keyboard melody anchors the entire offering, going up the scale and back down amidst a flurry of percussion and guitar chords. The bridge section alone might be enough to bring a crowd to their feet. The guitar team of Alex Snape and Trevor Rice are at their absolute brightest in this track, carving out a lead and rhythm riff that is second to none on the disc.

The 2013 music industry is a fickle one, still heavily leaning towards pop stars, boy bands, and generic radio rock. It is hard to say where metal fits into that landscape, though it doesn't really matter. For bands like Unbowed, there will always be an audience. Through sites such as Bandcamp and Facebook, metal fanatics from across the world can stumble on their work, and give them support from thousands of miles away. And while that will never help them to land a million dollar advance, or $10,000 to film a music video, it will leave them with something that is a lot more rewarding. By making the music they want to make, doing it their way, and doing it on their own, no one will ever be able to take their pride. And their legacy will always be intact.


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