I am fast approaching my 100th review at Prognaut, and it has always been my intention to present the Cd's I review in the best possible light by accentuating the positive while still pointing out the negatives without being mean-spirited. And on the odd occasion when my critique seemed unduly harsh, my ire was most often directed at the vocals - for the obvious reason - mediocre vocals can detract from an album even more than a mediocre guitarist.
There have been a few Cd's I reviewed of solo artists who were excellent songwriters and multi-instrumentalists, but should have reconsidered adding vocal duties to their list of accomplishments on the album credits and hired someone with the vocal chops to take the music to the next level. Sometimes it's ego - other times economics. But either way the end result is the same ... mediocre vocals ... lukewarm sales. The same holds true when an excellent vocalists finds them self fronting a band for which their voice is not suited.
Looking back at my reviews there were occasions when the vocalist was superb ... yet his or her voice was not suited for the music on the disc.
Without dredging up past reviews and insulting the poor vocalists once again I'll use an example of an album I didn't review, but one that makes my point.
Imagine a lounge singer performing adult contemporary standards in night clubs, who suddenly finds himself fronting your favorite progressive rock group. That about sums up the ill conceived 1978 collaboration between the popular Dutch progressive band Focus and American singer P J Proby - "Focus con Proby". His vocal style may be perfectly suited for musical theater, cruise ships, or an intimate night club setting where Robert Goulet still sets hearts swooning, but not as the lead vocalist for a group like Focus. Some things just don't mesh.
So once again I find myself in a quandary ... about vocals ... on the latest release, "Distorted Horizon" from the Estonian progressive metal band Echosilence.
And again - it's not an issue of bad vocals.
As a matter of fact female vocalist Kadri Ratt has a magnificent, sensual soprano voice. Her vocal styling brings to mind artists such as Sarah Brightman, Kate Bush, Annie Haslam (Renaissance), Maddy Prior (Mike Oldfield), and the relatively unknown Sheri Swanson whose beautiful voice made the 1990 album "Blue Solitare" by The Telling one of my personal favorite new age/ambient albums of that decade.
So with all that glowing praise what could possibly be my problem with Kadri Ratt's vocals on the Echosilence album "Distorted Horizon"?
Well ... imagine any one of the ladies mentioned above fronting Dream Theater, Symphony X, Queenryche, Fate's Warning, Metalica or any number of progressive, death, or thrash metal bands - a beautiful breathy soprano voice wafting over 120 decibels of distorted crunching guitars, gut thumping bass, and a supersonic blitzkrieg of drums.
No, it's not male chauvinism rearing it's ugly head. There are a number of excellent female vocalists fronting metal bands that I admire ... Evanescence, Nightwish, Otep, Lacuna Coil. But in each case their vocal range can match the power of a band in full sonic frenzy, cutting through the cacophony of distorted metal mayhem.
And therein lies the problem.
Unlike raucous female vocalists like Janis Joplin, Ann Wilson, Pat Benatar, Suzi Quatro, and Joan Jett who all made an indelible mark on the rock and roll scene with ballsy in-your-face power and passion, Kadri Ratt's voice comes across as delicate, wispy, and seductive, hardly matching the aggressive guitar interplay that makes up much of the music of Echosilence.
So to compensate for this 'Beauty And The Beast' musical liaison, Echosilence create a schizophrenic cocktail of aggressive metal mayhem mixed with equal parts sedate sensual jazz which leaves the listener a bit unbalanced.
Echosilence plays with a dynamic kinetic fury, rivaling the best of the progressive metal groups. But the moment Kadri chimes in with vocals the band downshifts like a driver approaching a dangerous hairpin curve, taking on a jazzy acoustic texture to accommodate her airy vocals. Then just as abruptly, power chords and blistering arpeggios kick in when her vocals take a back seat. And this song structure continues as a familiar pattern throughout the entire 30 minute mini-album. A few minutes of frenetic heavy metal shredding, an abrupt tempo change with a few bars of breathy female soprano vocals, followed by another barrage of distorted power chords and blistering arpeggios, downshifting for a few more bars of quite jazzy vocals.
The changes are glaring.
So who exactly is the target market? Headbangers and Sarah Brightman fans don't co-mingle.
I attended a Blue Oyster Cult concert on December 12, 1973 at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago; and the reason the concert is indelibly burned into my memory is because of the crowd reaction to the opening band. Iggy And The Stooges were the scheduled opening act - and together this combination would have been a wet dream for metal heads. But at the last moment Iggy canceled and Eric Carmen and The Raspberries were the replacement. When The Raspberries walked out on stage, it was pandemonium. Even though The Raspberries had a string of catchy pop hits like "Go All The Way", "Let's Pretend", "I Wanna Be With You", and "Tonight" the band was out of their element and unmerciful heckled and booed the entire performance. And why? Because the prepubescent adolescent teenie-bopper girls who go gaagaa over Carmen and his glam rock crew were nowhere to be found in a stadium full of Headbangers.
So I repeat myself ..."some things don't mesh."
The Raspberries left the stage in utter disgust. One guitarist yanked his guitar chord from his amp and stormed off stage.
I can fore see the potential for a similar response at a raucous Echosilence concert if minor changes in song structure are not made by the time the mini-disc becomes a full length CD.
If there is a bright side to this dilemma, during those quite moments to accommodate Kadri's vocals the guitar work is reminiscent of the .repetitive cross picking technique employed to great effect between Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew on Crimson tunes like "Frame By Frame". Maybe add a few more bars of cross picking technique before and after the vocals then slowly build into your next sonic attack. If done well you'll have the Crimson fans behind you.
Echosilence began as an instrumental prog/metal band in 1996 - and it's the hard edge instrumental gymnastics that plays to the band's strength. Don't dilute it.
Kadri on the other hand would be better suited fronting a progressive band like Persephone's Dream, Renaissance, Thinking Plague, Mostly Autumn, Curved Air, Mellow Candle, Magenta, Landmarq, Iona, or Earth And Fire. Success could easily come her way. Any one of these groups would benefit from her angelic vocals.
Might be a good time for Echosilence to reevaluate the experiment and consider a friendly parting of the ways. Or better yet - branch off into two separate groups.
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on February 19th, 2012