Written By: Kronos
“Progressive death metal” is a phrase full of lush semantic promise for me. Those three words hold the suggestion of an interesting and diverse palette of sound, with enough nuance to be respectable and enough hard-hitting and energetic release to satiate my almost masochistic desire to headbang. Sadly, the suggestion is all too often a bit misleading – as bands fail to deliver compelling songs amidst the interwoven forest of off-kilter rhythms and odd, but uninspiring tonalities. The very promise of difference all too often homogenizes the genre through an arms race for musical novelty and this prevents artists from forming a distinct identity. Identity is something Vancouver’s Tribune certainly isn’t lacking in; they’re decidedly not a copycat and their second album Tales is one of the most distinctive records I’ve heard this year.
Tales undoubtedly delivers difference right off the bat, putting its best foot forward and defying expectations the moment it begins by spotlighting Ryan Baker’s unprecedented singing style. Throughout the album, the man lets out an excellent array of roars and shrieks, but none are as unique as his throaty clean vocals, which most closely resemble, of all things, those of Volbeat’s Michael Poulsen. The eponymous opener spawns most of the musical threads that take precedence across the album’s 44 minutes: engaging bass lines with a strong presence in the mix, semi-melodic riffing, and a small cornucopia of shifting vocal styles. The basswork on this album is as varied as the riffing, and bassist Ryan O’Shea pushes riffs out with a lot of energy, especially on “From Funeral to Funeral,” whose odd-timed opener lets bass take the reins behind a scintillating screen of guitars. So many moments of this album are so enticing and extremely well written; when Tribune gets good, they get good .
But then they get not as good. All of that glorious bass comes at the price of weak guitar tone, which maims some of the better riffage, especially on “Red Crescent,” which I would favorably compare in both sound and energy to recent Black Dahlia Murder songs. There are so many good riffs that could be great if they were just a bit more confident, a bit more intimidating, a bit heavier. Songs like “The Butterfly Effect” carry a lot of good ideas, but feel a bit cardboard. It’s at least partially a production issue as there seems to be a gap in the middle of the sound spectrum that the guitars should be capitalizing on, and without this sound they lack the punch that really well-mixed death metal retains.
Despite the tone issue, the production is quite clear, although vocals often take up too much space when there are more interesting things happening in the song. This is especially true in “King of Ithaca,” which gets a little heavy-handed in its attempt to be anthemic. Throughout Tales great tracks jostle for space with tracks that feel nuanced yet antiseptic. There’s a particular dichotomy between “From Funeral to Funeral” and the unrewarding “Horror” that makes the former seem like even more of a gem, and “The Butterfly Effect” shows off a truckload of flare compared to its predecessor “Insectoid.”
Instrumental inequality compliments the differences between songs; while the axewielders keep the energy of each track high, drumming can only be considered adequate. Jason Brown’s drumming doesn’t warrant contempt, but fails to match the creativity or power achieved by his bandmates. Inconsistency takes a toll on the flow and effect of the album, but helps the good tracks become even more memorable.
As a whole, Tales won’t stick to you for long, but Tribune’s take on death metal should. It’s refreshing that they’ve focused not on heaviness or technicality, but on crafting interesting and varied songs. Though they don’t hit the mark every time, this band lays claim to most of the bricks needed to create a tower of metal excellence: they just need to use a little less mortar. And heavier bricks.