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See the tree, be the tree. - 70%

hells_unicorn, December 13th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Metal Blade Records

Defying both the odds of a longstanding 2 album per project rule that has dogged more than one member of this outfit and the tendency for super bands to drown in a sea of self-indulgence, Charred Walls Of The Damned has returned from a five year studio hiatus to see if three times is truly the charm. As a project, they've managed to offer a respectable, albeit predictable take on melodic metal with an emphasis on speed and technique that seems to want to bridge the gap between Control Denied and Iced Earth. The comparison to said bands is naturally unavoidable given the membership involved, but it is also highly applicable to the songwriting as well as the general quirks and nuances in the various members' performance, resulting in something that is stylistically similar to Horror Show and The Fragile Art Of Existence, though trending a bit more towards the former in terms of structure and melodic content.

Teaming with electrolytes and all the other things that plants crave, Creatures Watching Over The Dead is an exercise in meeting standards already set. The songwriting is naturally quite symmetrical and easy to follow, as anthems of beautiful woe such as "My Eyes", "As I Catch My Breath" and "Tear Me Down" feature consonant sing-along chorus sections that would be reminiscent of a mainline metalcore clean section were they not sung by the arguable successor of Rob Halford's vocal technique. Truth be told, the one area where this album really has its act together is the choir of voices provided by Ripper Owens, which seem a bit denser and very close to his signature approach on Framing Armageddon, an album that was likewise a bit more atmospheric and vocally oriented. It actually gets little close to outright pop territory on the slower moving numbers like "Living In The Shadow Of Yesterday", in spite of the noodling lead guitar lines and hyperactive bass work.

Naturally this isn't an album built entirely off of hook oriented anthems with musicians playing their instruments a little too fast and fancy, and there are some rather auspicious examples of this band keeping up the thrash side of their style. Case and point, the rapid fire crusher of a beast "The Soulless", where things launch into territory normally reserved to the more extreme fringes of Sadus' material with Christy blasting away at full force and Jason Suecof providing an impressive array of Bay Area infused punishment in between the minimalist melodic motives and icing the cake with arguably one of the most ridiculously technical guitar solos he's ever put out (think Jon Petrucci's solo on "Under A Glass Moon" on crack). The album's closer "Time Has Passed" sees a similar mode of high speed slaying, though the emphasis is shifted a bit more in Steve DiGiorgio's direction as he all but upstages the guitar with a barrage of pummeling runs and chords that would make Les Claypool do a triple take.

The long wait for a follow up to Cold Winds On Timeless Days naturally begets heightened expectations, and that is what proves to be the only real enemy to what has transpired in Creatures Watching Over The Dead. Apples to apples, this is almost a perfect retread of the concise, catchy yet predictable character of this band's self-titled debut. It's strength is primarily tied to the masterful performances of each individual member involved, and while they meld together nicely, the album suffers a bit from being too short and spending a bit too much time in catchy territory and not quite enough exploiting the talents of all those involved. It is by any standard a solid album, but for anyone with even a basic familiarity with the backgrounds of both Christy and DiGiorgio, it doesn't really go too far beyond doing what is expected and leaves one wanting for more.