I've had a strange relationship with iwrestledabearonce.
From the get-go, they established themselves as a band defined by the marriage of blistering intensity and bizarre musical exploration. Not content to simply play "progressive metal," the band commenced their musical career with an approach to music in which pretty much anything goes...from random horse-neighing sound effects, to carhorns that blare the first few notes of "Dixie" á la Dukes of Hazzard, to off-tempo breakdowns, to atonal vocalizations - both screaming and singing.
When I first listened through their full-length debut, "It's All Happening," I found myself alternately banging my head away then debating if I even liked this band at all. Another catchy hook would sway my vote back to approval only to be followed a minute or so later by music or sound effects so out-of-left-field I almost threw the CD out the window. It was a true love/hate relationship and it was a roller-coaster I wasn't emotionally prepared to undergo. So I had the DTR-talk with iwrestledabearonce and kept the relationship professional.
Two years after the difficult decision to just agree-to-disagree, the band
But I was wrong, so terribly wrong. Because iwrestledabearonce is back with another full-length-forget-about-everything-you-know-where-we're-going-we-don't-need-roads exercise in musical mayhem. The twist, this time, is it's just better.
The band has a lot to overcome for me personally because I just don't like female screamers that much. Before iwrestledabearonce I had two exceptions: Arch Enemy's Angela Gossow and Flyleaf's Lacey Sturm - and that was it. (I love your band, Maria Brink, but your screaming just doesn't cut the mustard) Part of what initially kept me from embracing iwrestledabearonce was the fact that I didn't think I could get passed lead vocalist Krysta Cameron's vocal abilities. Besides, I was happy with just Angela and Lacey; I didn't know my wolf-pack could grow by one. But when I listened to "Ruining it For Everybody" I thought: "Wait a second, could it be?" And now I know for sure: I just added one more female screamer to my wolf-pack.
Krysta's vocals on "Ruining it For Everybody" are vastly improved. Whenever she wasn't screaming on "It's All Happening," Krysta seemed to make a concerted effort to pitch her singing either too flat or too sharp. Granted it was part of the whole avant-garde, Dadaist schtick that iwrestledabearonce was known for - but for me personally it was too distracting and made it difficult for me to enjoy the music itself. On "Ruining..." however, Krysta's vocals gel with the rest of the music much, much better. She still favors non-traditional approaches to vocal progression, but there's a certain structure to the dissonance and insanity that makes it paradoxically more potent and more palatable.
And that's just her singing!
Her screaming is actually a lot stronger as well. Her highs are higher, her lows are lower and she does a fantastic job of pitching each scream/growl/pig-squeal to ear-splitting perfection. Any would-be-chick-metal-future-hopefuls would do well to take notes from this album. I can only liken the effect to tuning a guitar; "It's All Happening" exists in that 'inter-note' range where things are just barely out of tune - and "Ruining..." is that quarter-twist on the machine head of that one string that brings everything into harmony with each other.
Now, don't let that little guitar metaphor fool you. iwrestledabearonce is a band that thrives on musical chaos and savagery and "Ruining..." proudly continues that tradition. But where "It's All Happening" preferred a jolting, stop-start approach to those transitions - "Ruining..." smooths out some of the wrinkles. So when the Gospel choir comes in at the end of "Deodorant Can't Fix Ugly," it feels less like arbitrary schizophrenia and more like organized insanity. When a breezy surf-rock interlude (complete with sea gull sound effects and an effected Elvis vocalization) drops by during "You Know That Ain't Them Dogs Real Voices," the effect is closer to a mischievous sense of madness than a sadistic attempt to hijack and subvert the listener's expectations.
Another little delight that iwrestledabearonce continues to embrace (comparatively insignificant though it may be) are their song titles. The above-referenced titles aren't the half of it. My personal favorite is "Karate Nipples," and not just because I like boobs. The Tropic Thunder-referencing "This Head Music Makes My Eyes Rain" also comes in slightly ahead of the others and "It Is 'Bro,' Isn't It?" sounds like an inside-joke I wish I was a part of.
Fans of iwrestledabearonce's moments of cleaner singing and less manic moments don't make up the majority of their following. Since "Ruining..." features more clean vocals and a slightly more structured musical methodology than "...Happening" I suspect this album might not endear them as wholly to their existing fan base. The album still packs the punch of a shotgun filled with thumbtacks, but so many metal-heads these days get their bollocks in a twist at the slightest hint of a future "selling-out." This sophomore album isn't anywhere near the mainstream crossover, but it's possible that the extra bit of logic characterizing their new music might scare off the "purists."
Psh, whatever. Their loss.
The other major shortcoming this album features is its length; or in this case lack thereof. I personally love a really long album. I don't dislike an album simply because it's a bit short, but in the case of "Ruining..." there feels like a lot of territory left unexplored. Like when you're in the middle of an RPG and you've collected all those half-finished side-quests. But instead of following them up and grabbing that extra bit of XP, you just charge on through to the finish for the big climax and cutscene. The album kinda feels like that. No, it's not technically wrong for the album to be short or for you to leave all that fresh XP just lying around - but it would have been that much better had the extra time been spent exploring; musically or otherwise...whichever example you're still following.
"Ruining It For Everybody" makes me feel like Simba in The Lion King, finally realizing that Nala is more than just a friend with whom I argue and sing Elton John tunes. Or Ben (coincidentally enough) in "How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days": a relationship founded upon dislike and objectification gives way to ultimate bliss.
I used to believe that iwrestledabearonce was that kinda cute girl in high school that acted out for attention while hiding a crippling sense of insecurity and self-doubt. I've come to realize that they're really the manic-pixie-dream-girl of my musical exploration.
"Ruining It For Everybody" is certainly not for everyone. It's loud, grating, insane, obnoxious, abstract, and downright bizarre. But that commitment to unhindered aggression and nontraditional musicality is what made hardcore so much fun to listen to in the first place. And stacking it up to their previous releases showcases how much more mature it is than the rest of their discography - brief though it may be. As a result, this album looks like, to quote the great Humphrey Bogart: "...the beginning of a beautiful friendship."