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Icarus Witch used to be this really cool, pulpy old school band that channeled the best of Manilla Road and Fates Warning and doing them up with shorter songs and a more accessible template that kind of came out as an amalgam of the 80s metal and rock scene in the US. They had cool, groovy riffs and the spine-tinglingly good vocals of frontman Matt Bizilla, who has since departed. This is their first album with new singer Christopher Shaner, entitled Rise, and I’m not loving it.
Shaner’s voice is pretty good, a nice pro-sounding upper midrange, but mostly he just sounds kind of generic on this, and doesn’t have a whole lot of variety either, without much real dynamic or drama to his performance. He definitely isn’t bad though, and his workmanlike hard rock voice services the songs about as well as they need to be – he definitely isn’t what’s actively wrong with this.
No, what’s wrong with Rise is just that the songs don’t really do that much. They’re very standard and none of them really have any atmosphere. This is a flat, modern rockish album with a very clean, processed production and lots of repetition of the choruses, in which even the best ones end up kind of stale by the end of the rather average song lengths…seriously, a three and a half minute song shouldn’t be that hard to keep interesting. There’s nothing unpleasant about these songs – well, maybe excepting the 90s alt rock strumming balladic waste “Nothing Left” – but they fail to leave an impression and just sort of brusquely pass by, like a stranger at the metro station. Icarus Witch always had short songs, but in the past they made the three or four minute lengths count for everything and crafted intelligent and entertaining tunes…this time the short songs just feel short, and so the album has a rather inconsequential and rushed feeling throughout. Nothing is really given prominence in the mix; nothing grabs for the listener’s attention.
Not to say this is a total waste of time. The guitar playing is really awesome – check the solo in “(We Are) The New Revolution” or the intricate licks in the chorus of “Tragedy.” And the title track is a legitimately good song with a cool, creepy chorus that is probably the closest moment on this album to the band’s previous albums. But too many songs like “Say When” and “Coming of the Storm” just don’t really go anywhere, and the last song “Last Call for the Living” is actively annoying…eugh, what a terrible chorus that song has. Baaically the guitarwork is the only thing on here that really lends the notion that this used to be a band who worshiped at the altar of the metal gods of old. Everything else is just kinda whitewashed modern rock...lame.
So Rise is definitely not up to par with Songs for the Lost or Draw Down the Moon for total old school metal goodness. I feel kind of bad ragging on this, as it really is a very agreeable album and contains some thoroughly decent and competently done music, but every time I listen to this, I’m always just waiting for each song to end so I can be that much closer to the end of the actual album. There’s just so little about this that is interesting or cool. If you’re a huge fan of the band, you’ll probably like this a lot less than the alternative, but even then, I can’t see Rise winning these guys any new fans.