Surgeon // Chemical Reign
Rating: 3.0/5.0 — Maybe they need another year of med school
Label: Self released
Websites: surgeonband.net | facebook.com/Surgeonmusic
Release Dates: Out worldwide on 05.19.2013
The awesomely-named Surgeon is a trio from Philadelphia, and according to them, they play progressive metal with a touch of doom. Their second album is out this week and goes by the very metal name of Chemical Reign. I was unable to find any trace of their first album on the Interwebs, and as it turns out, “Surgeon” is not the most Google-friendly of band names (although I now know where to get a gastric bypass done). So other than the blurb above, from the bands’ own website, I’m going in completely blind.
Chemical Reign kicks off with the slow churn of “The Creeple,” and I am intrigued. The riffs are crunchier than a mouthful of gravel, and the crystal-clear production sounds damn nice to my ears. The almost-poppy “Watching You” is solid, as is “Greed,” a midtempo crusher with some fancy fretwork. Other highlights include the glorious harmonized leads of “Hamburger Factory” and the weird, “Raining Blood”-quoting “Animals.”
Guitarist Lydia Giordano has legitimate old-school chops and is clearly the star of this show, with a stinging tone and melodies that cut like knives. In true classic-rock fashion, she may not play thousands of notes, but she’s playing the right ones — check out those haunting leads on the title track for proof. Drummer Ruston Grosse is no slouch either, with a resumé that includes Woe, Rumplestiltskin Grinder and motherfucking Master (!!!), although Surgeon is a far cry from any of those bands.
Sean Bolton is certainly a more than competent bassist, but as a lead vocalist he’s generic at best. He has his moments throughout the album, but overall, he’s pretty one-dimensional. Mastodon‘s much-reviled clean vocals are a pretty apt comparison. Also, the occasionally silly lyrics give the impression that he might take his job slightly less seriously than he should. His vocals grow on you after a few listens, but they’re still an odd match for music this refined.
I’m a little confused as to where Surgeon gets off calling themselves either progressive or doom. There are some bits on Chemical Reign that can pass for prog, but they are few and far between. And I have no idea where the doom reference comes from at all, unless Surgeon defines “doom” as merely not playing fast. At best, this is “progressive” with a lower-case P, with the focus on songcraft rather than technicality and/or complexity. It’s the same tenuous link to prog rock that bands like Hammers of Misfortune and 3 have been saddled with.
But the label doesn’t matter — if Surgeon wants to tell the world that they play old-school Gregorian Chant with a hint of New Jack Swing, that’s OK with me. But my main gripe with Chemical Reign is that it’s pretty non-directional. Most of the songs cling to the same mid-tempo pace, with few payoffs as far as dynamics or interesting change-ups. The songs do go through a bunch of different movements and parts, and the guitar layering is pretty clever, but few of these songs live up to their potential.
These motherfuckers can obviously play, and they have a true talent in Giordano. But I want the riff that makes me put my fist in the air involuntarily, the lyric that sticks in my head for weeks, that guitar solo that has me grinding my teeth — these guys are missing the songs that do THAT to people. Granted, almost everybody else is missing those songs, too. But I sense that Surgeon has the potential to pull it off, and that makes it all the more frustrating when they fall short. In the meantime, if you want to hear some solid heavy metal with some depth to it, check out Chemical Reign, and keep an eye out for album #3.