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A flawed, but overall decent debut
on April 13, 2009
Threat Signal got their start the way most groups do: slowly, and by passing around a demo to anyone that would listen -- especially the website garagebands.com. And then *BAM!*, Nuclear Blast suddenly took notice and signed them to a record contract in order to strike while the metalcore iron was still hot. Some nobody rushing out a trendy new album --- it's a story we all know all too well. And yes, while this band may be the geographical kin of Kittie, and its members may have been also very young (of or around 21 years of age) when they hit it big -- the comparisons officially stop there. In fact, Threat Signal actually fall more in-line with the likes of, say, Job For A Cowboy because unlike most other bands in their shoes, they actually have substantial talent. (Although sound-wise, their 2006 debut, "Under Reprisal," actually lands somewhere between Fear Factory, Soilwork, Trivium, Lamb of God, Strapping Young Lad, Meshuggah, The Black Dahlia Murder, Pantera, The Haunted, Killswitch Engage, and Megadeth.)
In fact, this reviewer will even go a step further and venture to say that they have a lot going for it, as well. (And that is not counting the fact that they lucked out being signed to a major label and having Fear Factory's Christian Olde Wolbers as producer.) For example, take Jon Howard - the band's X-Factor, and a pretty friggin' amazing vocalist at that! See, most metalcore/deathcore/melodic death metal groups need to have at least two vocalists. But that's not the case here! Howard does it all himself, thus proving he has a remarkable range -- from tough-guy hardcore shouts, deathly growls, guttural bellows, Killswitch Engage-style crooning, accomplished clean singing, and larynx-stretching shrieks that evoke classic Scandinavian black metal (i.e. Dissection).
Furthermore, Howard, is backed by a four very solid and technical musicians, and they are every-bit-as-responsible in making "Under Reprisal" rock really hard. For starters, Kyle McKnight and Rich Howard already deserve to rank in the upper-tier of metal guitarists. They uncork a near-lethal barrage of catchy, aggressive, chunked-up riffs, blistering tremolo-picking, melodic leads, and wailing, technically-impressive solos (which help to make the arrangements dynamic) throughout these eleven tracks. And their playing is so tight that most of the time it sounds like one guitarist with four hands; if not for their frequent use of lengthy, Dragonforce-esque harmonic sections (where McKnight and Howard duel against and build off of each other), you might never have guessed there are two axemen involved here. And finally, one can't forget to mention the album's impeccable rhythm section -- the drumming is tight, precise, forceful, and thrashy (and clearly Fear Factory-inspired), and the bass fills aren't half-bad, either. (They are very steady and well-placed, and play an integral part in thickening-up the bottom-end.)
The set kicks off with "Rational Eyes," a hard-hitting and in-your-face number which begins with a perfect lock-step unison of fiery, rubbery riffs and swift, kick-to-the-noggin double bass drumming that echoes classic Fear Factory. Jon Howard is then permitted to unleash a few wicked black metal shrieks before the tune smoothly segues into a huge, catchy, soaring, emo-lite chorus. "As I Destruct" works similarly, beginning with powerful, booming guitar and drum crunch and ending with epic, open choruses, guitar harmonies, and a cool piano outro. "Seeing Red" boasts impressively technical and energetic guitar work, and bristles with blistering, machine gun riffing and effective melodic vocals. Two of the other most memorable songs on tap here are "Faceless" (which has mean, Hatebreed-style hardcore gang shouts), and "A New Beginningj," which begins with a Guns `N' Roses-sounding guitar lick and climaxes with a really killer, meaty, and memorable stutter-step riff. (It kind of sounds like a funkier riff that Pantera would have come up with in their glory days -- that might not describe it well enough, but it will have to do.)
As listeners work their way through the remainder of the album, it becomes clear the almost every song follows the same fairly cliche, predictable, and formulaic heavy verse-melodic chorus and outro structure. There's nothing wrong with songs following a formula -- on one condition: the formula has to work every time. Unfortunately, that cannot be said about everything you'll hear over the course of this disc's 47-minute playing time. Yes, most of the time that heavy-to-melodic delivery does go over well, but some of the time it just does not pan out so well. (For proof of the latter, see "Counterbalance" and "Now", two examples where the clean vocals seem forced, sappy, and unnecessary.)
"Under Reprisal" is also dragged down a little by a few mildly silly parts. For example, the gunshot noise at the beginning of "One Last Breath" comes across as very amateurish, out-of-left-field, and almost cartoonish. And track seven, "Inane," would otherwise be a very decent track if it weren't dragged down by a ridiculously overlong (and highly skippable) outro. And finally, to be honest, it would be a bit of a stretch to say that, as of right now, Threat Signal are capable of standing out from the rest of the already over-glutted metalcore scene. Ultimately, the only thing about this record that stands out and sticks with you is the fact that it is fairly melodic in comparison to the stuff being put out by the rest of the metalcore masses. (But in order to stand the test of time and play with the big boys of the genre, Threat Signal need something more than just that.)
All told, "Under Reprisal" is definitely not without a few flaws, but overall, it is about as promising and potential-filled as debuts get anymore. Thus, it should be chalked-up as a great showcase for ample vocal and instrumental skills, and overall, a good, solid record with plenty of room for growth. And if, on future efforts, more attention and time is spent on perfecting their songwriting craft, then the sky is the limit for this Canadian quintet.