Trail By Fire
When I think of rock and metal acts that have emerged from the country of South Africa, I'm at a loss to come up with any names other than Seether. Certainly more rock than metal, Seether has elicited a rather positive response from modern rock radio since their American debut with 2002's Disclaimer. Following in Seether's footsteps, though certainly not hot on their heels, Cape Town's Stonecollar look to wrangle the same audiences that have propelled their fellow countrymen to international success. A year in the making, Trial By Fire is Stonecollar's debut album and shows the band forging a sound from the remnants of both the '80s heavy metal scene and the grunge movement that sent it underground.
Trial By Fire is, ultimately, a tale of two sounds. The title track, with its '80s-inspired riffs and gritty vocals, exemplifies the side of the album that most appeals to me - and likely most fans of '80s metal. Together with nifty little burners like "Not For Good" and "Poison The Well", this track's high energy and admirable lead guitar work from Sean Tait are just what fans of the retro metal scene hunger for. Teamed up with Clinton Jurgens for a solid twin-guitar attack, Tait lends Stonecollar's sound a vaguely Priest-ish ambiance. Adding to the retro appeal, at least on the more traditionally inspired tracks, is the album's primitive production. The guitars have that raw edge to them that tends to dissolve under most polished production jobs, but the impact of Bryan Nicol's work behind the kit (as well as frontman Léshem Petersen's bass) is severely diminished.
While the production accentuates the more metallic tracks, it harms the songs that have been crafted specifically for the modern rock radio market. Tapping into the post-grunge scene, Stonecollar delivers down-tuned, near-staccato riffs on tracks such as "SQT", "Turn A Blind Eye", and "Say Your Prayers". Petersen's vocal performance, which is rather solid throughout Trial By Fire, fits best with this aspect of Stonecollar's sound. Tracks such as "Loose Cannon" and the modern rock power ballad "...As The Crow Flies" seem to inspire a soulful performance from Petersen, while the layered vocal approach on "Unnatural Selection" adds a rather catchy quality to that particular tune.
In the end, Trial By Fire is an album that wants to join the rising tide of traditionally-inspired heavy metal while also latching on to a more commercially viable sound. Stonecollar has the chops to succeed in either direction, and with improvements to their production values may have a shot at following bands like Seether to mainstream success. Personally, I'd like to see them run with the likes of White Wizzard and Stormzone and leave the Hinder/Alter Bridge sound to the kiddies.
|1||Not For Good||5:32|
|2||Trial By Fire||5:03|
|4||Turn A Blind Eye||4:11|
|5||Poison The Well||5:52|
|6||Say Your Prayers||6:08|
|8||...As The Crow Flies||4:31|