Good songs, bad producer
As soon as the record starts, I’m reminded of A Perfect Circle. The guitar parts are pretty sexy, I won’t lie, and I like how busy the drums are; Meytal can play her ass of and she’s not shy about it. I am completely ok with this. The bass tone is excellent, but I’m a disappointed in that I feel like I can’t hear the bass enough. I saw the video previews for some of the songs and the bass was so growly. In my headphones though (Sennheiser HD 280 pros, 64 ohm, for the nerds out there), I can hear the bass, but not as well as I’d like. There are places where it pops out a little, but I feel like until the bass break in “Killing Time,” the third song, the bass is more audible as clicks than anything else. When the rest of the band gives the bass some room though, it sounds real damn good. “Killing Time” is the best showcase for the bass, but I hope they mix it a little louder in subsequent releases. EP closer Shadow in Disguise shows almost a djent influence (ugh…just typing the word “djent” pisses me off), but in a good way. It’s strongly rhythmic and grooves well in that start-and-stop way djent is all about. Lacking is the AXE-FX rig and the random-ass arpeggios. Both fine to do without, I think. Listening, the instrumental influences are right there on the sleeve: Tool, A Perfect Circle, and maybe Breaking Benjamin are the three I hear loudest. The band shows off some serious, if not super flashy chops. Basically, the playing is technical, but tasteful. The vocals though, I’m not sure how they fit in. Like, the singer is good, no doubt; I can’t hit those notes. But the music is ducked so hard under the vocal, and the production is so slick the songs end up feeling a little squashed. The guitar riffs like Adam Jones, but it sounds almost polite instead of nasty, and there are these synth lines and effects throughout the EP that work fine enough, but I think weaken it overall. I have no idea if this is the case, but it sounds like the band wrote a bunch of cool, heavy songs that are interesting and tight, and then hired a producer who said “Oh, we need radio play. Let’s make the singer sound like the dude from Chevelle and throw some extra synths in to get the mix a little denser, so we can COMPRESS IT MORE.” Seriously, listen to “Killing Time” and try not to be distracted by how much better it would be with Maynard singing and none of that stupid “telephone” EQ.
I really feel like this band wants to sound more open and raw (like Lateralus, one of the best produced heavy rock/alt metal/whateverthefuck records out there), but they didn’t have enough clout in the studio and got bulldozed by a producer who wanted them to sound like heavy Three Days Grace or something. I’m not a huge fan of the singer, but I suspect that’s more the fault of the production “direction” than his actual voice and ability; like I said, dude can hit some big notes. The reverb, echo, and sheer number of vocal tracks just gets in the way though. Listen to “Parabola,” by Tool, for comparison. All the instruments sound huge because they have space. When the guitar and bass double each other, it’s hard to tell them apart because it’s just big and thick, but when the guitar goes off to do something else, the bass is super clear. The drums are massive and spread across the entire stereo field, and the vocal is pretty dry, dead center, and sits *in* the mix instead of on top of it. Meytal’s EP by comparison, almost never has a spare bit of audio space. The instruments seem to be competing more than cooperating. In particular, the vocals and the guitars overpower the drums and bass. When I switch to shitty laptop speakers, every bit of clarity is gone and the parts I can hear lose their context. When I play “Parabola” through the same speakers, you can still hear all the parts.
It seems like I’m putting this EP down, and I really don’t want to be. The music is very cool and is, in my (obviously paramount) opinion, being held back by bad production practice. Which is a shame, because even for all the radio-friendly, alt-metal sensibility in the production, the music is probably too aggressive to have much staying power on most rock radio stations, and by making it so slick, I feel like they’re turning off people who might otherwise like it a lot. I think maybe the most frustrating example of the problems with this EP starts at about 2:12 in “Killing Time,” during the bridge. The guitar is in the right channel, chugging out a pretty cool riff, the vocal is singing over it with pretty tasteful echo, and all is almost well, except there’s this stupid fucking rhythmic clicking (not even like, drums) that pans back and forth across the soundscape and brings you out of the moment in bafflement. WHY IS THIS EXTRA THING THERE?? WHY IS THERE A THING?? A moment in the song that was almost the coolest part got ruined by some extraneous shit. I feel like that’s the story of this EP; it’s not the musicians, it’s the producer.
I give this EP 4/5 for music, but 2/5 for production, because the production has no idea what the fuck it’s doing. I guess that averages to about 3/5, which seems about fair, based on my enjoyment. I want to make clear, I think these guys have potential, and I know they can play and write a song, but they need to sort out how their records are going to sound before I’ll be able to call myself a fan.
Pick up Meytal’s First EP here for $4. Four tracks, download only, .Mp3 and .WAV. Not too bad a deal.