10 Years – Minus the Machine

by Brian McKinny

First, off, let me say that I really like these guys. They’ve been flying just under the radar of other similarly styled bands like Chevelle and Shinedown, but not really getting the credit or recognition that they deserve. They’re really a lot like the loud band down the street, who jams some really cool shit in the basement of the singer’s mother’s house… You can hear it from your house, but you never call the cops or complain… They come across as just a bunch of regular guys, who make some pretty cool music, and you wish they’d invite you down for a beer and to jam, and lo and behold, they do!

The title Track, Minus the Machine, starts off rather melodically with a smoothly–sung first verse, and soon jumps into a nice, grinding chorus. The verses are more subdued and melodic. The clean rhythm guitar tracks over the booming drums are a nice touch. A simple, straight-forward song, that goes off on an interesting tangent in the guitar break leading into the bridge, before it brings us full circle back into the raging chorus of “Minus the Machine!” to its abrupt conclusion.

Battle Lust is the next track. I like the way it starts off… You just know you’re gonna get kicked in the face! The menacing guitar riff is a nice hook for the song. It’s in a major key that gives it an upbeat feel and a sense of urgency to the song, while the sweet-voiced lead vocals are a nice contrast to the heaviness of the general tone and heavy beat of the song. I enjoy the call and answer of the lead and backing vocals on this song.  Short and sweet, this album is off to a good start with the first two tracks.

Forever Fields begins with a nice vocal/piano combination. It creates a mood for the song. The subtle synthesized orchestration in the background fills the void without muddying up the overall tone of the song. The piano and vocals working off of each other really reflect the mood of the lyrics and the emotion in the singing of them. It’s a very nice and unexpected interlude before going into the next song, which is the single currently getting played on the airwaves now.

Backlash is a study in contrasts. It has a very frenetic, energetic drum part that from the start seems like it will overwhelm the entire song by itself. First impressions are almost always correct in music, and this time is no different. The drum parts do overwhelm the song, and for me, being a drummer myself, that is saying a lot. The drums overtake the guitar parts as well as the vocal parts, to the point of complete distraction. I think it’s not just the drum parts, but the mixing of it that puts them so far out in front of everything else that turns out is a mistake for this song. It’s just too frantic. The bridge is a nice departure from the frantic drum part, adding a more melodic interlude before it bashes you upside the head, going straight back into the frantic drums before coming to an abrupt end. Kind of like a train wreck.

Writing on the Walls is a nice, morose and moody little ditty. It is full of style and interesting parts, particularly the acoustic guitar with nylon strings being finger-picked. The vocals are smooth and nicely sung, almost sweet, really. The whole song has a dark, foreboding sound to it, but not totally hopeless in its message.  It actually is more of a warning, really. A commentary on what happens when we let things get out of hand and all control is lost. The drums are well played for the mood and groove of the song, and the bass line backs it all up nicely without being overstated. I like this one; it’s a sleeper…

Dancing with the Dead starts off with more of that nice guitar work – there’s a lot of good, clean guitar finger picking on this one. It’s got a good body groove that makes you move with the sound. I like the guitar hook once it gets distorted and the song takes off. It has good mood and dynamics throughout. The vocals really are standout on this whole album – this is a very vocal-oriented band, and I like that they’ve got a singer with talent – he’s got range, depth, and feeling. You believe what he’s singing, whether the lyrics are a little pedestrian sometimes, or not. Mostly, the lyrics are pretty thoughtful and interesting, if not just downright insightful and intelligent for a band of this genre, a trait they share with bands like Shinedown.

Sleeper has a cool beginning with a nice, simple bass line, a lone guitar, and some plaintive vocals, creating yet again, a dark mood – building to something. That something is big, heavy, and badass. I like the theatrics that this band incorporates into their music. Very dynamic and explosive, but the sweetness – there’s that word again – of the singer’s voice really works as a brilliant contrast to the heavy staccato of the guitar and drum riffs. Drums and bass are very syncopated, almost working like a counter melody, and it works well in this song.

Soma starts off heavy and straight forward. I like heavy and straight forward. But then they pull a ‘switcheroo’ and throw in some Spanish guitar, cut the beat to quarter notes on the kick drum with some nice cymbal work, and then punch you in the face with the full force of the guitar hook and soaring vocals, only to pull the rug out from under your feet, and go back into the Spanish guitar, quarter notes on the kick drum and nice ride cymbal work with some china cymbal accents. Back to the chorus, the punch in the face and then the bridge – a variation on the Spanish guitar breaks with a twist on the upbeats on the drums. All this drama makes for interesting dynamics throughout the song.

Tightrope has a very ethereal, thin quality to it to start off, and then it explodes in your face. And with that, I am seeing a very distinct pattern in their writing and recording on this album. All of the songs are extremely dynamic, very stylish, and production is top notch. However, there are glaring similarities in the arrangement of a lot of them, suggestion a single mind directing the production of this album, rather than this having been collaborative effort by the entire band. It could be that the band put their faith in their producer, giving the producer complete control over the creative process. However it was achieved, it works for most of the songs, but wears on the ear after listening to the whole album several times.

Knives reminds me a little of Tool, and that’s not a bad thing, because Tool is one of my favorite bands. I especially get off on the double-time heaviness of the chorus. It works itself up into frenzy, and hits new heights with each new verse. More heavy syncopation in this with the drums and bass lines is very effective as a counter balance to the raging vocals.  It is heavy and angry, and energetic.

Birth-Death is a brief guitar interlude, about 60 seconds or so, which leads directly into the next and final song…

And All the Other Colors has some really nice vocal harmonies in the beginning that create a tone and somber mood for this heavy dirge that picks up the energy and tempo about mid-way through. It is a cacophony of fast and heavy drums, an interesting, if slightly monotonous guitar riff, and some plaintive vocal wailing. It’s a strange song to end this album on, but at the same time, it works. It puts a dramatic exclamation point on the album as a whole.

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