Monday, October 3, 2011
Maylene and the Sons of Disaster - IV
Rock 'n' roll ain't what it used to be. For better or worse I don't think anyone would argue that what we call rock these days is a far cry from what was called rock even 20 or 30 years ago. With that in mind, it's always fun to see a band that revisits the roots of the genre with that special rock 'n' roll swagger. Maylene and the Sons of Disaster is a band that has had made a career of doing that very thing - writing and playing heavy metal with an emphasis on a return to a southern rock 'n' roll feeling. So with their fourth album, conveniently titled IV (preceded by III, which in turn was preceded by II, which in turn was preceded by a self-titled debut - hey at least they're consistent right?) does Maylene proudly carry on the gritty "cock rock" tradition they began 3 albums ago? Wish I could say it did...but we'll get to that.
I've always been one to give the benefit of the doubt wherever necessary. With that in mind, IV definitely has the best production value of any Maylene album to date. It's clear from the moment that the first double-time riff starts off that the band spent a good deal of time perfecting and fine-tuning the engineering of this album.
And before it sounds like my review of this album is meant to be largely negative, that's not my intent. We'll get to why my praise for this album is a bit hesitant in the next section, but for the moment let me say that the music itself is really solid. Maylene's signature sound is still there, more or less, and they've managed to refine it even more.
Lead vocalist Dallas Taylor is a big part of why this band's sound is so unique. Having formerly fronted metalcore outfit Underoath, Dallas was originally known for the squealing, vaguely emo-tinged vocalizations that characterized much of "mainstream" metalcore in the early 2000's. The idea of Dallas going from Underoath (a strictly metalcore band) to founding Maylene and the Sons of Disaster (a band all about Southern machismo and old school rock-metal) seemed like a longshot. But he managed to find his true calling with Maylene, and adjusted both his singing and screaming to evoke more "Southern" motifs. He's only perfected with each new album, and IV is no exception.
A few stand out tracks are the opener, "In Dead We Dream" - which features just about the most aggressive riffs on the album (the other primary contender being "Never Enough", or maybe "Cat's Walk"). It's a pretty solid barn burner type of song, and just as much fun as any previous Maylene material. "Taking On Water" and "Come For You" feature chord progressions and lyrics more in-line with traditional rock - and for all their bark-instead-of-bite, they're actually really good songs.
If you've heard the album, you probably know what comes next: this album is not classic Maylene. I'm not attacking the quality of the music or even the band itself, I'm really not. This is not the old "the band sold out" routine. But I don't think even the band would argue that IV sounds pretty markedly different from their other material. Is it bad for a band to explore new subgenres? Of course not. But I went into this album expecting some more fire-and-brimstone Maylene, more middle-finger-to-the-mainstream Maylene, more work-out-and-then-go-shoot-my-shotgun Maylene. So when what I got instead was..."radio-friendly" Maylene, needless to say I was a bit disappointed. And from the fan-reaction to the album it seems I'm in pretty good company. I'm not negating their right as a band to write and record whatever the hell they want. But as a fan of a very specific thing from Maylene and the Sons of Disaster, getting the exact opposite...yeah, I'm disappointed with this album.
To be specific...IV can most readily be described as a sound you're probably intimately familiar with. Think Theory of a Deadman, plus a dash of Nickelback, a few Creed-like moments, and one or two half-nods to their previous material and you have IV. It's not just the fact that Dallas doesn't scream hardly at all on the album; the riffs themselves and the music overall has been mixed to greatly reduce the full force of the electric guitar. The music feels...kinda, declawed is the only way I can describe it. And while that's not a bad thing in and of itself, it's not what I've come to expect from Maylene and the Sons of Disaster.
Another signature Maylene and the Sons of Disaster motif is to have the last track kinda stand out from the rest of the album as well. It's usually more instrumental, occasionally featuring some spoken word. Well, "Off to the Laughing Place," the last track from IV definitely keeps that tradition alive, but not in a good way. The track would be an experimental outing for a band like Dream Theater - it's just plain weird, and it feels like an after thought more than anything else. Even trying to give Maylene the benefit of the doubt, that song just had me scratching my head.
Again, let me reiterate I'm not saying I think the band sold out at all. The fact that they deliberately moved away from the sound they were known for is a pretty ballsy move such as it is. So I'm not of the opinion that Maylene is now trying to eat out of corporate trough. But you'd have to be in pretty solid denial to say that IV is not the least aggressive Maylene outing to date.
If you take Maylene's 4-album career and look at their progression, it still seems fairly logical. Their self-titled debut had a very "dirty" feel to the recording, and the riffs were gritty and unrefined. II scaled that back a bit and III continued to take Maylene to a slightly less overt sound. It wasn't a bad thing, II and III are my favorite Maylene albums. So it doesn't come as a complete surprise to see them scaled back even further. But it is, as I've said before, a bit disappointing.
I'll say it again: I don't think the band sold out. Hell, I'm sitting here with "Taking On Water" and "Come for You" on repeat, I really like these tracks. But their sound is more radio-friendly, less aggressive, and overall more mainstream. Those things aren't necessarily bad things in and of themselves - I'm not trying to demonize a mainstream sound. But it's flat-out not what I've come to expect from Maylene and as a result I'll probably wait for a few other reviews to come out before I run out and buy their next album. If you didn't like Maylene because their sound was a little too metal for ya, there's never been a better time to become their next biggest fan. You can have my seat - to hear Dallas tell it via their Facebook page, it seems I'm not wanted in these ranks anyway. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.