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Lackluster riffs + production problems = meh - 71%

iamntbatman, November 21st, 2009

At the Ellipse's Arc marks perhaps the first time Bone Awl have really dipped in quality since they first began releasing material (for reasons other than pure production/recording problems, anyway). Production issues plague this release as well, but the ratio of good to "meh" riffs is lower than normal, although the good ones are definitely up to par.

Standard Bone Awl Newbie Introduction Speech: Bone Awl essentially play raw punk rock with a few metal elements here and there with ear-destroying black metal screams. The riffs are simple but effective as always and have that oh-so-important trademark Bone Awl mid-range guitar tone that sounds like a fuzzed-out bass playing punk power chords. The band tends to write music in a pretty similar vein throughout their career but normally the riffs are different enough to make distinguishing one song from another quite easy. Not so on At the Ellipse's Arc, where the ending riffs from the title track blend right into the opening bits of "Cornered Slave." Likewise, the end of "W.T.D." is pretty much the same as the beginning of "When I Die." Of course, it's possible the band did this on purpose to achieve some sort of cohesion between the tracks, but the result seems more like a lack of ideas than anything else. The riffs are a hell of a lot weaker here than what we're used to and while there are some standouts ("Cornered Slave" offering the best of the EP's riffs) there are also some duds; the entirety of "When I Die" is just one chord being bashed on with some little accents here and there but rather than droning in a mesmerizing way (as one-chord songs can sometimes be) it's kind of annoying.

The drums are about what you expect out of Bone Awl at this point: primitive punk beats with sprinklings of metal character here and there. The problem is that the cymbals are really overbearing and have that sort of washed-out effect from the signal clipping somewhere down the line. It's particularly obnoxious in this case because the cymbal-bashing is pretty much constant throughout the EP.

As is something of a trend in this era of Bone Awl releases, the vocals are on the buried side. This really hurts their efficacy in delivering the piss-and-vinegar part of the Bone Awl equation (in cased you missed it, the equation is one part piss, one part vinegar, two parts raw punk enthusiasm = totally awesome). He Who Gnashes Teeth is one of my favorite black metal vocalists so it's a shame to see his talents go to waste due to production issues.

A different version of "W.T.D" appears on the 2007 release All Has Red (there called "Will to Die") but otherwise, these songs are exclusive to this EP. The real standout track here is "Cornered Slave" which is a pretty good Bone Awl song hampered by a couple of boring riffs scattered throughout (the faster ones, oddly) but, like the rest of the EP, the lackluster vocals take away from its potential. With only one real gem (and it's a rough-cut one, at that) in the mix, I can't recommend this to any but the most die-hard of Bone Awl fans. Casual listeners can skip this one and newbies should definitely start elsewhere.