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A confused effort created to perplex - 35%

SilenceIsConsent, September 25th, 2012

What makes a good man go bad? What makes milk go sour? What makes a band sell out? None of these questions are truly easy to answer. Hell, they probably can't be answered at all. But that does not stop people from wondering, and trying, to figure them out. In the case of Black Tide, I find myself asking the last of those three questions the most. The pseudo-cute image of a bunch of teenagers from Miami playing straight up classic sounding heavy metal in the vein of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, etc. seemed to be met with a mixed message from the metal community. While many people undoubtedly thought that Black Tide was a sign that a new bumper crop of clean, well made, well executed heavy metal was finally getting major label recognition, others saw it as nothing more then a facade and a cheap marketing gimmick for Interscope Records to cash in on. In the deepest confines of my heart, I wanted to believe the former, that Black Tide were going to be one of the bright new faces of metal for quite some time and lead the music back to some sense of mainstream recognition ala the 1980s. And then (Black Tide) released their second album, Post Mortem.

There is a part of me that genuinely tries to like Post Mortem. For all the image changes, body modifications, and genre switches that Black Tide have gone through, there is a real heavy metal element to this album. Underneath it all you can still hear the same band that put out songs such as "Shockwave", "Shout", and my personal favorite "Warriors of Time". You can indeed hear that Black Tide on Post Mortem. However, finding that element requires digging through a virtual mountain of pop-punk crap thrown on top of it. Never before have I ever heard a band sound so uncomfortable to play music as I have on Post Mortem, and it results in one of the most confusing, difficult, and boring albums that I think I have ever listened to.

The perplexing nature of this novel starts right from the first time Gabriel Garcia opens his mouth. Indeed, there are many listeners who believe that Black Tide changed their style because Garcia could no longer hit the high notes and falsettos that he was capable of at age 13 (to which I call bullshit). I lauded Garica's performance on Black Tide's debut album as a return to more higher pitched vocals in genres outside of power metal, a reversal of the now popular trend of increasingly guttural vocals. Now, with the stylistic shift, one could expect the vocals to completely change, but they don't. The vocals simply sound like a slightly deeper version of Garcia's voice on Black Tide's debut. This would not be a problem if it was not for the fact that because the vocals did not seem to really evolve with the musical style, they sound hollow. By and large, his voice does not match the emotionally wrought, somewhat decently poetic introspective lyrics of songs like "Ashes", "Bury Me", and "Take it Easy". The one place his vocals absolutely had to sound wretched with emotion, the power balled "Into The Sky", he sounds only somewhat confessional and has no sense of sorrow or loss in his voice. When Garcia nails it, such as the fast very catchy "Honest Eyes", he does sound decently sad, though in a sort of angst ridden teenager way rather then a full on sense of sorrow and morose. He still has a wonderful load of clarity, an uncanny ability to hold out notes, and is a fine chorus singer, but the vocal performance could have been more charged and leaves me scratching my head more times then I can count.

It's not helped by the fact that the music sounds awfully disjointed, and there is no bigger culprit to this "square peg in a round hole" feel then drummer Stephen Spence. I do not actually believe Spence himself knew what he was supposed to play on this album. Now that is not to say that the drums are not in time or anything of that sort, but Spence shifts from a quasi-thrash style to a hardcore style to an alternative rock/grunge style far too often for my liking, often seemingly not knowing which is appropriate for certain moments. I personally have stated that Spence is probably the least talented drummer in all of metal, but guys like Paul Marzurkiewicz of Cannibal Corpse get away with a lack of talent fine because they play with enough authority and passion to make up for whatever lack of double bass or poly-rhythm skill they may have. Stephen however seems more then content to sort of just tap his drums in a manner that is only adequate because it's in time with the rest of the song. And the result is that saps a ton out of songs that seem to have a ton of energy under the surface. Songs like "Honest Eyes", "Let it Out", and "That Fire" just sound like the metal equivalent of a car engine clogged with sludge. They don't move quickly because it's almost like the drums were an abstract afterthought in the making of Post Mortem and Spence had absolutely no direction to go off of.

Perhaps affected by the uncertain drumming of Stephen Spence, Gabriel and fellow guitarist Austin Diaz play some of the most uninspired riffs I've ever heard come out of an electric guitar. Most of their riffs are simply pop punk riffs with a little bit of palm muting. It's absolutely awful and has to be the most pathetic attempt to pass something off as metal ever. Even the absolute mess of a riff fest that was Metallica's St. Anger has more authority then most of the crap on this album. The breakdown riffs on songs like "Ashes" and "That Fire" are so tame I can't imagine for a second even the most strung out hardcore kid wanting to mosh to them. The harmonies of songs like "Take It Easy" are incredibly simplistic and are so repetitive that you wonder if they simply just looped them over and over again. The most where the band does play riffs with some conviction, such as "Bury Me", "Walking Dead Man", and "So Broken", they actually sound like decent enough metal riffs. But most of the time it just sounds like these guys do not remember what a real metal riff sounds like.

Same goes for the guitar solos, which I think are some of the worst on a metal album this side of Kerry King. There are many metal guitarists who get away with playing solos consisting entirely of tremolo picked, bent, and tapped pentatonic and harmonic scales; Kirk Hammett, Zakk Wylde, and Dimebag Darrell have put themselves in the pantheon of all time great guitarists by playing nothing but those licks. But for what those guys lacked in theoretical prowess and technical ability, they manage to make up for it in solo composition. There solos may have been simple, but they were memorable. With that notion in mind, no one can deny that Gabriel and Austin need lessons in how to compose a guitar solo. In fact, I think they should take lessons in just learning how to play a solo in general. The solos on Post Mortem are so unbelievably slow, disorganized, and unmemorable, I feel like a ten year old could have written them. They are that pathetic.

Perhaps the only really good thing about this album is the mix, which is completely professional and I think sounds very good. The guitars are gritty enough to not overwhelm and sound prominent in the mix, and the vocals are near crystal clear. Perhaps my favorite work though was on the drums, which have a very nice tone to them and the cymbals cut wonderfully through the entire mix. The bass (which I did not go out of the way to mention because it's barely there) is too pushed back for my concern, but I don't think that really matters considering how minimal of a role Zachary Sandler has in this band.

For all the confusion on Post Mortem, there are glimpses where you can still hear the old Black Tide. Bury Me, Walking Dead Man, and So Broken all seem to offer glimpses of the Black Tide that was so endearing to listeners on their debut album; the classic, bare bones, in your face heavy metal band that produced catchy numbers worthy of any heavy metal party setlist. But too often, you have to dig under a mountain of alternative rock fecal matter to get to it, a mountain that Black Tide themselves seems sometimes that they themselves do not know how to navigate.