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As I listen to ‘The Road Less Travelled’, its easy to see why Penance adopted a softer touch to their next record. Although some of the attributes to this record exist on the next record, the debut isn’t as strong in terms of musicianship or song writing. In actual fact, a lot of the songs sound laboured, lazy and weary. I understand that this was recorded during the era that we now call ‘old school’, but instead of being defined as a classic of that era, this enters the school of hard knocks and has its red behind whipped some more by the cruel lack of creativity. Penance began and ended ‘Parallel Corners’ in a productive manner. The band set about integrating experimentation into their sound, which is less defined at this stage, early on and it proved to be a winner with the fans, myself included. ‘The Road Less Travelled’ is apt in describing the appeal of this record when compared to the appeal of the second full-length - whilst ‘Parallel Corners’ is a booming motorway, full of life and vigour, ‘The Road Less Travelled’ is just that - not often in use because there are better options at hand for the controlled driver who is stuck in their sets ways and knows exactly how they wish to get from point A to point B. There is a directness about this record, but that isn’t a positive when compared to the star-studded affair of the second full-length, which mesmerised the listener with creative structures that included a variation in vocals and other delightful sections of the instrumentation, such as the emotive acoustics that set a different path for the listener to take their positive views down. The emotional readout of this record is like an earthquake reaching 2.1 on the Richter scale - usually not felt.
Beginning with the instrumental intro, ‘Eulogy’, I had high hopes for this record. The intro set about depicting a solemn opening with a simple, yet pleasing introduction to a hard-faced record. The intro didn’t serve the content for the rest of the record well and, once again, had me asking questions as to why it was included in the first place since it didn’t lay down any familiar emotions that are conjured up throughout the remainder of the record. Instead, it fixated on an entirely new sound, which is distant and cold towards the remaining songs. What follows the introduction is lacklustre. The songs are poorly developed and seem to believe that introducing guitar solos into the soundscapes will enhance the opinion of the relatively simplistic content. The answer to that is clearly no, it does not enhance anything. The instrumentation, whilst well performed, is stale and somewhat boring. The production limit’s the emotive productivity of the record. It dampens any sign of significant emotion that might be trying to be portrayed through the individual musicians. Whilst areas like bass and vocals usually act as an emotive source for the rest of the instrumentation to develop around, like flowers and plants growing upwards and outwards towards the sunlight that feeds them, the band seems to believe that ‘menacing’ guitars will highlight their lyrical themes well and, unfortunately, it doesn’t. The second full-length, although nowhere near perfect, at least attempted to signify some intent and add some sort of dynamism to the songs with varied tempos, variation in vocals and even acoustic passages.
This record doesn’t want to do the same. It believes lazy doom laden solos will create a devastating enough atmosphere that will portray the despair of the vocals and lyrics, but it doesn’t do that either. Though each aspect is audible, Penance struggle to mount any form of creativity that is worth spending the duration of the record trying to find like a needle in a haystack. The lyrics to ‘Soul Rot’ are comically ironic, “Don’t want to be a slave to monotony … No!” Well, I’m afraid you are. The guitar leads lack direction and with the spurts of creativity that the percussion adds, the content seems jumbled and works in a stop-start-stop motion, continuously. Songs like ‘If They Would Cut My Throat Out…’ are fine examples of this. The instrumentation cuts out the vocals and plays over, again and again, inducing boredom by repetition. Now, its not the fact that Penance approach the content with a repetitious mindset that irks me because I’m used to repetition, in fact, I’m a fan of it, the problem is simply with the lack of innovation and control. The vocals, which are the highlight of this poorly produced piece, aren’t enough of a saving grace to drag this record of its knees. The scarred and tortured soul of the listener is eternally damned to hell by the monotonous and grinding down approach that spreads thin soundscapes across the sky like think rain clouds only capable of producing drizzle, as opposed to a full on storm. This record, and its content, is about as useful or as nice as a condom with holes in it. What makes this mediocre piece even worse is the fact that there are two songs over ten minutes in duration. Dear God, no.