Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Acolyte: Alta (2013)

Scream for me Acolyte!

Review by joanismylover, the third metal attorney.

This is not a review about Agalloch. It is a review of Acolyte's "Alta" release. It is not a a critique of metal vocals or lyrics. I will reference Agalloch to draw a contrast and then launch into a carve out to the general rule that, in metal, vocals don't matter.

Agalloch are generally regarded by critics and metalheads alike as a pioneering "metal" band. (I put metal in quotes because comments from Agalloch place them in the Led Zeppelin "we're not metal" zone). Their albums are routinelly rated as the top metal albums of the year (2010 - Decibel's album of the year) and worthy in the canons of metal history. (The Mantle is in Decibel's Hall of Fame). They play black metal inspired and acoustically driven heavy music. Their songs are pretentious in ambition and scope, but they mostly pull it off. Musically, Agalloch at times are absolutely transcendent. With Agalloch, the listener very much gets the sense of a musical journey through songcraft.

I have listened to Acolyte's "Alta" four or five times now and I do not get the same sense of journey, or songcraft. Clearly this is a band that holds Agalloch and Primordial in high esteem. The compositions are in the Primordial scope rather than the 8-10 minute wonders of Agalloch. Acolyte has a more metal feel than Agalloch and at times are absolutely forceful in their presentation. Vultura, Leng, and The Nameless Expanse all explode with heaviness and stomp in lieu of much of the pomp and circumstance of Agalloch. For a band that sounds like Agalloch (Jr.) these pounders are the highlights, and that will probably not be where the band wants to succeed on the evidence here. This is, thus, an uneven affair. I would rate it higher but for the thing that should not be, both with Agalloch and now Acolyte.

The vocals. Agalloch's 1999 release "Pale Folklore" is virtually a masterpiece of heavy music. It's a post-Master of Pupperts era Master of Puppets, musically. But whereas Hetfield's vocals are not a factor in that album's glory, Agalloch's vocals knock them off the path to musical legacy. Such emotive music requires emotive vocals - my preference would be a "clean" singer but I think a spoken word screamer would also work. What does not work for Agalloch or Acolyte is the emotion-neutral and borderline comic gargoyle vocals. You can understand the lyrics because the vocalist is impersonating some kind of demon speaking. It is not spooky, eerie or scary. It's distracting. Acolyte gets away from these vocals sometimes and that's when the songs take off - see the hardcore like shouting in Nameless Empire. I realize that vocals are usually not important if the music works. Mostly, if the riff and song kills, singing isn't required. Screaming, shouting, talking or even whispering all work. Cookie monster vocals work. Because they fit the music. Vocals should not detract. When a singer is talking in a funny voice, without emotion, it calls for a critique. For Acolyte, this is that critique.

2.5 out of 5 stars.

(I can't find an embeddable, studio version of any of the songs from this record, so make do with this studio report if you wish.)

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