Friday, December 26, 2003

Review: Sixty Miles Down - Sink Or Swim (2002)

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Sink Or Swim

With the radio clogged by a glut of bands who are no more than clones of the latest mallcore trends (Switchfoot, Audioslave, A Perfect Circle  to name but a few), it's no wonder that any new "modern rock" group is usually met with skepticism, and often more than a little bit of disdain, by serious fans of heavy music. The emo/agro/nu-metal muppets so often hailed as "kick ass" by the baggy-pants generation are so devoid of artistic creativity that it's difficult to tell where one band ends and the other begins. Can anyone tell me what musical innovation separates Slipknot from Static-X, or Clutch from Spineshank? Sure, their clown makeup differs slightly, but is that what we want from a band? If I haven't yet made clear to you how I feel about what the major labels feed us as rock these days, then let me turn my little red baseball cap around and spell it out for you...

Nah, you're metal fans so you get the point (and in all likelihood share it as well). What does my rant have to do with Sixty Miles Down's debut album Sink Or Swim? Well, Sixty Miles Down is what most would consider a "modern rock" band that has a sound I could see as radio-friendly, but they're also a band in possession of musical talent and songwriting ability that sets them far apart from the sonic goobers mentioned above. Plenty of bottom-tuned guitars and distortion, tons of bass groove, and a vocalist who sounds like a less depressed Layne Staley - that's Sixty Miles Down in a musical nutshell. What separates them is the variation of their songwriting as they ease from crushing riffs to power ballads to semi-industrial grooves. Frontman and band founder John Mosco captures the bleakness that hallmarked Alice In Chains and refines it with excellent range and sincere emotion. Sink Or Swim was recorded at a time when their drummer was splitting duties with another band and unable to participate in the recording process, so besides being the voice of Sixty Miles Down John also sat behind the kit.

A far majority of the songs on the 12-track debut are strong enough to stand on their own, with some slight nuance or distinction keeping the album from falling into a rut. Of the many standout tracks, the first to catch my attention was the semi-ballad "What You Never Had". This song has the most potential to be a radio hit because of its Semisonic-like accessibility. Far from the heaviest on the album (aside from a couple of crunchy riffs), it still serves as an indication of the bands ability to switch gears and compose quality songs at more than one level. Getting back to what we're most interested in (that being the heaviness of Sink Or Swim), "Say Goodbye" is very reminiscent of early Filter for its electronic/industrial makeup. The title track, as well as "Resolution" and "Temper Takes Control", shows a clear Godsmack influence in both vocal styles and heavy riffs. "Raise The Dead" is the first of two ballads on the album (the other being "Waiting For You" with its expressive guitar opener). Again, a powerful performance from Mosco and some fine guitar lines keeps the listener involved and away from the "skip" button. Wrapping up the album is "Darkness Falls", with dual-guitar harmonies and some of the heaviest riffs on the disc. A short interlude with female backing vocals is a nice touch as well.

Several members of Sixty Miles Down were splitting time in another New Jersey band called Anger of the Lamb, resulting in tensions which ultimately forced John to disband the group shortly after releasing Sink Or Swim. Striving to keep alive the band he founded, John recruited a new guitarist (Dave Chisholm) and a new bass player (Eric Bergmann) in early 2003 and set to work writing material for a follow-up to the debut. Should the rebuilt Sixty Miles Down be able to match or exceed the quality of Sink Or Swim, big things are sure to be on the horizon for these guys.

Track Listing
1 Tired
2 Broken Down
3 What You Never Had
4 Say Goodbye
5 Sink Or Swim
6 Raise The Dead
7 Resolution
8 Temper Takes Control
9 Waiting For You
10 Dead Weight
11 Underwater
12 Darkness Falls

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