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I have to admit, I just picked this up on cassette for 50 cents in a local used record store three days ago...and it has not left my cassette player yet.
I also have to admit, this one took me a few careful listenings to wrap my head around completely.
I found myself questioning how a band with the guitarist from Hades could put out an album with so few solos. I found myself also questioning how a band playing this slow, sludgy doomish brand of metal could work with Alan Tecchio wailing away over the top.
Then it occurred to me. I was reading the lyrics to these songs and I realized what this was.
This is something of a concept album.
More to the point, this is a man who finds himself realizing what a truly fucked up place the world he lives in is at the very time this world he's in is caving in around him. He suddenly finds himself truly aware of what's going on, yet torn between wondering what he can do about it and wondering if in fact he can do anything at all. What ensues lyrically is a mix of questioning, despair and rage...
...which explains why there are so few guitar solos and why Alan Tecchio's banshee screams work in ways that it otherwise wouldn't...
...This album is all about the lyrics and the tales those lyrics convey.
Suddenly, this all makes sense, this combination of downtuned, sludgy guitars, slow to middling tempos and glass shattering vocals. And when this is understood, there is alot to like about this album, because for the most part, Non-Fiction pull off what they're trying to accomplish here...and this is a good thing because underneath the sometimes simplistic riffs and structures is quite an ambitious attempt at high art.
Yes, Hades was also trying to pull off high art and also made a few really good records in their day, however that's where the comparisons end.
Where Non-Fiction succeed is in writing mid-paced material that, while not technically dynamic and not crammed with 30 riffs per song, rarely gets dull and rarely overstays it's welcome. Shit, one of the most memorable tracks on the record is the acoustic guitar driven "Next To Nothing", which has that middle-eastern feel Alice In Chains would catch onto later on (think "What The Hell Have I").
There are a few issues with this record. It seems at times that the band struggle to keep it together when the tempos go down to pure sludge, in particular "Peaked", "Reason To Die" and the title track have moments where it seems to fall apart a little.
As for the song "Peaked", I personally feel it would have been best left off the record, as it is a dull, dull tune with something of a misfit lyric...The best way I could put it is "emo for shoegazers". Also, the acoustic riff that is "No Comment" is a really good IDEA, something that the band could have done something amazing with I feel...as a "song" it really serves no purpose other than to further kill the momentum already halted by "Peaked".
Other than those minor flaws though, Non-Fiction went and made one really good sludgy, yet diverse record that mixes tempos well enough to keep things moving and mixes styles well enough to keep things interesting (check out the straight up blues of "One Last Time" as an ender, it really works well in terms of the greater concept).
I don't usually write reviews out of spite. Hell, I don't even usually write reviews however there comes a time when grave injustices must be corrected. The injustice in question was perpetrated by the previous reviewer in his banal analysis of 'In the Know'. To say that Non-Fiction must have been "listening to a lot of Kyuss that week" is really putting the cart before the horse. Had the reviewer bothered to perform any research, he/she would have discovered that, rather than precursors, Kyuss were compatriots evolving at the same time as Non-Fiction, albeit on the other side of the continent. The reviewer was also off the mark on his assertion that this album was designed for MTV or popular consumption; there isn’t a populist bone in the whole album, much less the band.
The production is really is really dry here. Guitars, bass and drums are very staccato, riffing and popping in a manner that belies the subject matter; exposes of human greed, loneliness, and the empty social contexts that occupy life while one simultaneously contemplating ending it. Where Kyuss would have taken a fuzzy, droning approach to achieve feelings of abandonment, grief and futility, Non-Fiction uses a unique progression of clean de-tuned minor chords to drag the listener into their self-loathing, self-pitying spiral of depression.
Song structures and composition are unusual here as well. This is not really a metal album in the traditional sense. However, I submit that metal is more than just blast beats and flying guitar solos; metal is art as the language of life. Metal is also the cold, raw truth spoken by those who care not what society thinks of them. 'In the Know' is an expression of weakness and strength and frailty of the human mind complete with the psychoses apt to be found therein. Guitar work that seems unimaginative and boring to those not in tune with the big picture is actually the pushing and plodding that we all do in our mundane lives. The album is persistent and rhythmic in its march, and unswerving in its message.
‘In the Know’ was released in the days when vinyl and cassette tapes were still relevant and it's no accident that the songs were put to wax in the order in which they appear. The songs on first half of the album are quite depressing, even futile in their lyrical content and in the mood they induce. An engaged listener is dragged through a downward spiral and hits rock bottom with 'Reason to Die', a dirge which brings the listener to the brink of mental collapse and suicide. Song ends. Flip the tape. Side two begins with 'Reason to Live'; essentially the same song as 'Reason to Die' with the same chord progressions and song structure, albeit in a less menacing major key. ‘Reason to Live’ sets the mood for the second half of the album by somehow bringing resolution to the malignant thoughts (still present) and by steeling the mind with a new strength. The transition works so well because of the physical gap introduced when playback of side one ceases and the ensuing long pause generated while the album is being flipped. I must have listened to the tape a dozen times before I realized that the songs were nearly identical twins. That type of effect doesn't occur by accident.
Highlights on the album include ‘In the Know’, ‘Next to Nothing’, ‘Reason to Live’, ‘Reason to Die’, ‘Peaked’ and ‘Sound Decisions’
When you think of Non-Fiction books, you think thoughts like "this is longer than it has to be" or "this is boring". It's not really a coincidence that the same thoughts are conjured by this album.
The album cover they used for their "Preface" album is one of my favorite album covers of all time. I got the In the Know album on the old adage that if it has a good album cover, it must be a good album. That notion was thus defeated.
It's alternative half metal by the books, trying to strafe into Soundgarden territory, but without hooks or power whatsoever. The riffs repeat like crazy, and the vocal melodies are unmemorable and pretty stupid. The production isn't that hot either, I don't know if they had been listening to a lot of Kyuss that week or something, but they seem to be trying in vain to get that type of sound here.
The guitarwork is unimaginative and boring, like they were trying extra hard to play it simple and get that big break on mTV and a Lollapalooza slot or something. I was surprised that Alan Tecchio hit it so flat here, his performances with bands like Watchtower and Hades are no indication of this crapola.
The album is uninspired, uninteresting, and un-good. I would have given it a lower score, but I'd have to think an album scoring lower than 30 would be unfit to be even a drink coaster or frisbee. This album isn't THAT bad. The band did seem to have untapped potential. With better songs and a more metal production they would have been a good (not great) band. This album seems to be more like a vain attempt to jump on the post-grunge bandwagon than a real metal album. If you find it on the ground, you win. Actual money would best be spent elsewhere.