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Proving Nothing. - 65%

Perplexed_Sjel, May 19th, 2009

If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought that Penance slotted nicely into the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement that took great strides in the 80’s and 90’s. The influence of this movement seems to be wide raging, spanning across all corners of the world because Penance sound as if they could have fitted into the role of a British heavy metal act nicely. This record, the third in their collection, ‘Proving Ground’ is comfortable in its style, unlike that of the first record, which was pedestrian and sounded dried out, as if no life existed within it. Although Penance have maintained some of that sound for this record, which is often repetitive, the material is consistent enough and has a certain catchiness to it which ‘Parallel Corners’ did not have as it was paralysed from the neck down. The vocal contribution was seemingly the only aspect of the record that deserved any merit, though the vocals aren’t the epitome of epic goodness. In actual fact, they’re much like anything else you’re likely to find within the tainted genre. Its easy to say and even easier to see that bands playing this style can easily fall into two contrasting categories. Either your band has sufficient enough material to make the step up from good to great, or you are banished to the quadrants of mediocrity, or perhaps even worse. Penance are a bit of an oddity when judging their material on these two categories and the attributes that makes bands fall into either one or the other. Why? Because Penance have induced pleasure within there audience with the contrasting pieces. Adventurous play does take part on this record, in the form of songs like ‘Pain’, but its few and far between.

‘The Road Less Travelled’ was devoid of experimentation. Its repetitious nature was one that hindered the progress of the overall sound of Penance, whilst ‘Parallel Corners’ was an unexpected bout of experimentation that warranted much praise due to its inability to be struck by the same disastrous methods that the debut was hit by. The debut fell foul to criticism and, with its much maligned sound, was deemed surplus to requirements in comparison to the thoughtful ‘Parallel Corners’. This, ‘Proving Ground’ leaves more questions than it answers. This oddity proves to be the black sheep of the family of extremes as it flirts with the middle ground of the work present on the previous two efforts. Whilst it does contain a robust amount of repetition, ‘Proving Ground’ does exhibit some experimentation in the form of the percussion and guitar leads. I don’t wish to take such a harsh stance on this piece as I did with the average debut because there are some very enjoyable leads to be found on all the songs, but there is a feeling of resentment growing inside me at the fact that Penance haven’t mustered up even half of what they’re possible of, in terms of the experimentation with tempos and instrumentation (like the positive addition of acoustics on ‘Parallel Corners’). Once again, I’m finding myself stuck in the middle and sitting on the fence because the content isn’t adventurous enough to warrant superlatives and isn’t mediocre enough to warrant cries of abhorrence or disgust at the lack of general experimental play.

One would think, given the vast experience of a band of this nature, that they would be clued into the fact that experimentation in the form of ‘Parallel Corners’ is likely to help them succeed in creating the ultimate record. However, the band do not use this questionable vast fountain of knowledge and they themselves sit on the fence. Unsure of whether to go back to their inexplicably dangerous roots, or whether to experiment with the NWOBHM styled sound, despite not being from Britain (though you don’t have to be from somewhere to be influenced by its culture) by fusing it with instrumentation that will add a vastly different texture to the record than the typical grinding of the distorted guitars, high levels of influential bass and the crashing cymbals which override a lot of the percussion sound. ‘Bitter’ is a fine example of when Penance get the balance right - mixing traditional aspects like passionate clean screams with repetitious guitars (until those free flowing solos ebb away at the mediocrities) and a modernised take on bass, which has a consistency throughout the song that isn’t perhaps present on other songs. The soundscapes are very familiar sounding throughout. Unlike the essential ‘Parallel Corners’, which liked to play with different themes, ‘Proving Ground’ doesn’t like to change the stance of sound (until ‘Pain’, which begins brilliantly with the melodic spoken words and emotive guitars, alongside the slow percussion). Its not often that Penance will change to suit the diverse tastes in the listener and usually, as soon as they do, they turn their backs on adventure in search of a homely feeling by playing what is familiar to them. ‘Pain’ is the major highlight of this often confusing record.