Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Review: Axewound - Vultures

 I remember one time I believed that Bullet for My Valentine were the quintessential modern metal band that everyone that considered themselves a fan of metal loved. I'm hilarious. It turns out they're the band that all the real metal elitists love to slam to the ground more than any other band. So when it was announced last year that frontman Matt Tuck was working on a new side project that he claimed was "metal-as-fuck", very few people took him seriously. Personally, I hoped the project would reveal itself to be some kind of metalcore equivalent of Dave Grohl's Probot. What we got instead was Axewound, a so-called supergroup featuring members of Glamour of the Kill, Pitchshifter, Rise to Remain and the main selling point, lead vocals performed by Cancer Bats' Liam Cormier. And with the Bats already proving themselves to be on top form this year with their killer Dead Set on Living, the proposition of this supergroup suddenly became very exciting.

 More than anything, the excitement between a Bullet For My Valentine/Cancer Bats based lineup does really come from the dichotomy that both bands work in. While Cancer Bats have the sound of hardcore punk mixed with elements of sludge metal, they work in making what metalcore should have been considered as before it took off as a mainstream trend, back when Converge were known as metalcore, while Bullet For My Valentine have in recent times done what Metallica did on The Black Album with thrash metal and taken elements of metalcore and adapted it into a form that would sound effective in filling up Wembley Arena, as they have already managed to do.

 So in a world where thebest names in metalcore are the likes of While She Sleeps and Bury Tomorrow, neither Bullet or Cancer Bats really have the qualities that give those bands the 'core credentials that the have. Cancer Bats are too loose when they play (not that that's a bad thing) and BFMV are that bit more toned down and do focus a lot on their hooks when they play. (Not a bad thing either) With Axewound and their debut effort Vultures Tuck, Cormier and... the others that receive just as much attention, reveal their attempts to play in the same league as these bands while also having a bit of steel plated fun at the same time. Have they cracked it? On some levels, I s'pose.

 By some levels, it's obvious that there are some things that the album lives up to and other parts it doesn't live up to. The notion of the main band's performance sounding like a fiercer more sterile BFMV is true and right from the gritty riffs from Glamour of the Kill's Mike Kingswood and digging basslines from former Rise to Remain man Joe Copcutt on the album's title track, the density Axewound provides has definitely been turned up from Bullet's capabilities, even as the band launch into the single riff and crashing cymbal combo that any Slipknot fan will know can lead into a good song. In fact, there's a surprising amount of truly heavy moments to be found on this album. Though on of the more melodic offerings, single Cold features breakdowns that will judder the ground of any moshpit, while even Tuck's typically big booted guitar solos make a turn for the heavier during the likes of Burn Alive and Exorchrist.

 The fact that the efforts to make a genuine metal album rather than something totally mainstream sounding is also commendable. With the hardcore rush of Blood Money Lies, the band's shot at making their own Fucking Hostile, the heaviness and pace is picked up in a way that Bullet For My Valentine could never get away with or at least keep half their fanbase with.

 In that respect, Axewound is a more fun outing for Matt Tuck in the sense that he can get away with anything and being heavy in a way that would never sell as many records as Bullet could. But for Cancer Bats, the notion of making music they could get away with isn't a problem for them and in that sense, fronting a band with a slicker level of production doesn't really sound like the typical idea of Liam Cormier having fun. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure he is, but with Axewound, Cormier sounds like he has to be more serious than he would when you listen to Hail Destroyer. In essence, it takes some time before it sounds like Cormier has reached his comfort zone, while members of these other hook heavy metalcore bands are trying to out-do each other on the scale of how heavy they can get, and isn't the concept of just wanting to be heavy the kind of concepts you hear about from bands that typically describe themselves as "br00t4l?" I'm just saying.

 To go back to this concept being a fun "metal as fuck" band, it becomes less apparent that fun is being had the more that Matt Tuck allows his vocals to appear on the album because frankly, Bullet For My Valentine started off with elements of an emo band and they've not gone away. An album that's meant to be "metal as fuck" should really not touch upon any balladry, yet Collide ventures into just that territory with a full scale piano intro, which is probably meant to be funny in how cheesy it sounds along with the further elements crafted on a cheap Casio keyboard. On other albums, this has worked but with a promise of pure metal, it just feels like a drag.

 Ever since the announcement of Axewound, I've wanted to love this band - I've talked about them before with high zest, even before discovering that "axe wound" was a slang term for female genitalia - but there's an expectation that the band doesn't live up to, which is a horrible thing to have when waiting so long. It definitely has it's moments of pure power, where it's promise to deliver music with a depth and heaviness that Bullet For My Valentine could never get away with, is effortlessly delivered, but does it have the qualikty that the group's new peers in While She Sleeps and Bury Tomorrow have? Definitely not, in fact there are moments that feel rather average and the desire from Matt Tuck to go as hard as possible at times feels restricted by Tuck himself. if supergroups are never meant to be as good as they're built up to be this is definitely an example of a supergroup that comes off as alright. Ultimately, I'll take Dead Set on Living over Vultures anyday.

Axewound's Vultures is out now via Sony Music Entertainment. The band are on tour of the UK now with The Smoking Hearts.

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