Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Review: Alaric - Alaric
How can I possibly hope to measure up to the epic posting spree perpetrated by Noktorn over the last week? I'm not sure it's possible. But I do have a pretty cool interview with Amebix's The Baron coming up, and I just received two sick Ride For Revenge promos from Finland's Kvlt Records. For now I'll start with this, which I've been meaning to write for a while.
Alaric is an Oakland band composed of metal and punk veterans playing apocalyptic post-punk, and this fall they released a self-titled debut album on 20 Buck Spin. This is one of the first full-lengths to emerge from the new wave of punkish goth bands, so I was pretty excited to hear it. At first listen, it is impressive indeed. In opener "Eyes" and second track "Ugly Crowds," Alaric approach over thumping midtempo toms with riffs reminiscent of Christian Death and Rudimentary Peni. Despite the overt gothiness of all the individual elements at play, these combine into a thunderous bombast that has more to do with the band's roots in metal and crust. The chorus of "Eyes," which first hits at 2:54, is a great example of this approach. Between the power-chord thrashing and backing chorus of deep male vox, it is seriously ominous.
Alaric have also written a couple "hit singles," really memorable, somewhat faster songs that sound closer to old-school deathrock or straight-up punk. "Your God" starts kind of slow but eventually bursts into a clever, irreverent kiss-off of a chorus--"I'm so tired of your God/cause he acts like a jealous child..." Towards the end of the album they improve on this winning formula with "Animal," which is gripping from beginning to end. A really nasty chugging buildup gives way to a long, intricate chorus. It's built up from smaller phrases that seem to push off from one another, like bodies in the circle pit this song will undoubtedly generate.
Still, Alaric doesn't really reward repeat listens, and I think it might've been better as a very good 4-song EP than an uneven 8-song album. Too often it simply drags, even during the better songs. And when the weaker tracks yield a payoff, as in the reasonably anthemic chorus of "Alone," it's not enough to justify the minutes where not much is happening. One problem is that Alaric rely almost entirely on their vocalist to carry the music, and that's simply an unreasonable expectation to place on the singer of a punk/goth/metal band. There's plenty of space here for cool riffing, especially on the verses, but I just don't hear many powerful hooks or interesting textures. The other problem is that Alaric seem too wedded to playing slow. I think it's an attempt at being grandiose and atmospheric, but playing slow without cool riffing is just plain playing slow--low on energy, and inherently not as cool as playing fast. It says something that "Laughter of The Crows," the album's longest track, finally gets exciting when Alaric pick it up just before the 4:40 mark. Alaric want to be some kind of slow, "doomy" goth band, relying more on atmosphere than overt riff-power, but they've failed to realize that atmosphere comes from riffs.
While I've harped on about the songwriting, I think what this comes down to is an identity problem. Alaric are at their strongest when they draw confidently on metal and hardcore, flowing into the aggressive playing that comes naturally to them. When they restrain these impulses in attempts to be more indirect, to be more stereotypically "post-punk," it just backfires--They're not doing justice to themselves or their chosen genre. I'm on the fence about this album, but I'm definitely optimistic about Alaric. These dudes just need to loosen up and rock the fuck out.
Thanks to Dylan at The Bone Reader for hooking me up with this promo. The review will be reposted to his site pretty soon, but TBO readers get it first.
P.S. This band does have a pretty cool name. Aside from sounding badass, it's a pun. Alaric menaced the later Roman Empire as king of the Goths.