Debackliner is the second French group in a week for me. The first was the excellent Ars Moriendi—a one-man, black metal act focused on the Frenchy weirdness of bands like Spektr and Blut aus Nord. But, Debackliner is something else. It’s not a one-man band, it’s not black metal, and it’s not anything you were expecting. After ten years of lineup changes, included ditching death vocals for clean ones, and honing their repertoire, Debackliner are here with their self-titled debut. But, for all their honing, mixing Iron Maiden with power and pirate metal influences is just strange (no, Diabolus, this doesn’t sound like Alestorm). And it’s made even stranger when deathy barks appear, filling the dead space between guitars and clean vox. I know, that’s a lot to take in. And it’s both intriguing and frightening at the same time.
After the first couple spins of Debackliner, the greatest issue I have with it is its lack of engagement. It doesn’t have the pop, hook, and oomph necessary for something this simplistic. There is some variety between straightforward rockers like “Werewolf” and “Mr. Jack” and epic pieces like “The Omega” and “Jolly Roger,” but only a couple of these keep me coming back. And, when stripped down and examined, better examples of big riffs and big choruses are found elsewhere.
Yet, there are a handful of tracks worth a spin. Opener “Pandora,” “Erase the Hordes,” and “Mr. Jack” have enough attention-grabbing character to deserve at least a couple listens. The opener has great energy and the final couple minutes of guitar work is as slick as black ice, even if the leads are borrowed from Maiden. Now, before you get offended, know that the guitars are decent and the song has just the right amount of memorability to warrant the loan. “Erase the Hordes” has a nice groove to match its Peavy-ish (Rage) gruffness and, like the opener, it finds its inner Maiden and unleashes it. This time, the Maiden influences come to via old-school gallops rather than the melodic leads. And then there is “Mr. Jack.” Instead of the five-to-six minute “Pandora” and “Erase the Hordes,” the compact “Mr. Jack” tears through the bush like a baby wolverine. It’s got a straightforward, heavy-metal attitude led by Iced Earth-like attacks that’ll leave your neck in knots.
For better or worse, the two standout tracks on Debackliner are “The Omega” and “Jolly Roger.” “The Omega” is not only a potential tribute to the band’s original (and better) moniker, but it packs in accenting death barks, a catchy chorus, and an orchestral interlude that concludes with a heavy-metal finish. But, what appears to be the dumbest track on the album, is actually the best. “Jolly Roger” is the most diverse track on Debackliner and its inclusion of everything but the kitchen sink works. Especially, the mid-song bass guitar and drum build that climaxes with the best Maiden riffage of the record. The biggest issue with the song, however, is the chorus. While it might be the catchiest on the album, the pronunciation of “Rolly Roger” is almost comical. I don’t want to make fun of the guys, but “joel-yyyy row-ger” is a bit distracting. But, with a few spins, you begin to appreciate the song and the cheesy chorus becomes less distracting.
Unfortunately, there are some tracks on Debackliner I just don’t like. Chiefly, “Rise of Angel,” “Werewolf,” and “Circle.” And they all share one thing in common: backing death vocals. “Circle,” in particular, uses way too much of it and it comes off sounding like a screamo band sharing the stage with Linkin Park. I understand the harsh vocals are meant to add variety, but they’re distracting and cripple the flow. This is definitely the case for “Rise of Angel;” a decent track, with a solid chorus, that finds itself smothered by weak, deathy barks.
Overall, Debackliner is pretty standard stuff. The choruses are big and hooking, but the songwriting is pretty average. But, the one performance that does kick some ass is the bass guitar. Without it, tracks like “Children of the Night” and “Jolly Roger” would not be as memorable as they are. So, stay for the bass, stay for the cheese, but leave before any of it gets stale.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 128 kbps mp3
Label: Pitch Black Records
Websites: pitchblackrecords.bandcamp.com/album/debackliner | facebook.com/debackliner
Releases Worldwide: October 21st, 2016