Burning Tongue – Prisoner’s Cinema Review

I still haven’t quite figured out the title here. Is this a pun on “prisoner’s dilemma” or is it referring to movies that prisoners watch? Tie it into that cover, and it poses more questions than it answers. What kind of movies are they watching in prison? We can only assume that it’s horror, but is it like Sharknado 3 or Carnival of Souls? What exactly do prisoners consider “cinema,” anyway? Are they snubbing their nose at Transformers while giving standing ovations to Rashomon? Where do the Scooby-Doo live action movies fall on this spectrum? Will there ever be an end to the Fast and Furious movies? Why did the first Conjuring movie knock it out of the park and everything since fail to live up? But more importantly, is Burning Tongue any good?

Burning Tongue is a quartet from New York, citing bands like Trap Them, His Hero is Gone, Bathory, and Celtic Frost as influences. Debut full-length Prisoner’s Cinema is their first release in eight years, since EP Blackest. At heart a hardcore punk band, these New Yorkers spew nihilistic sermons with fervor and intensity, dragging in influences of grind and death metal for a foray whose comparison feels a tad like a more hardcore-influenced Nails or Great American Ghost minus the deathcore. Thick riffs and punky beats pummel the ears, while moments of ominous brooding buildups pervade Prisoner’s Cinema, in an album that satisfies in its balance but frustrates in its lack of commitment.

Although the vocal performance throughout is nothing short of impressive, Burning Tongue is at their best when they embrace the riff. The grind influences in tracks like “Howler” and “Cult-de-Sac” make their sound deliciously overwhelming, but when the tempo slows slightly, songs really revel in a tangible groove in a sludgy tone not unlike His Hero is Gone‘s Monuments to Thieves. “Voidwalker,” “No Honest Man,” and “Throne of Salt” are great examples, letting the thick guitar lead the charge with a tangible swagger with tasteful brevity. Although tonally inconsistent, the moments of ominous buildup also succeed when executed with precision: “Reptilian” and the title track in particular (as well as its prelude “Phosphene Dream”) channel a dark and gloomy place where riffs drone and the somber melodies rear their heads for a look. It’s a singularly bleak outlook that Burning Tongue offers and paired with its riff-centric tracks, makes Prisoner’s Cinema feel like a journey in its most focused moments.

However, the album’s greatest sin is its tragically indecisive qualities. While the promo proudly proclaims “This is hate. Played really fast.”, I was expecting something along the lines of Full of Hell‘s latest, Trap Them‘s Darker Handcraft, or NailsYou Will Never Be One of Us, but Prisoner’s Cinema doesn’t feel particularly hateful or fast, for that matter. Don’t get me wrong, Burning Tongue can be intense when they choose to be, but too often their tracks end up in hardcore limbo. They simply don’t embrace grind, death metal, or hardcore enough to contend with artists of those respective fields. Balance is everything, of course, but tracks like “False Light,” “Pigs Will Swing,” and portions of the title track are symptomatic of limp songwriting, as their track lengths should not be as formidable as they feel; they simply grind too long with unspectacular riffs, pumping the brakes to a near-standstill. Comparisons to Great American Ghost are fair, but Burning Tongue doesn’t boast the knock-down-drag-out heft to flaunt their brutality. Even the mightiest riff present, the closing passage of “Voidwalker,” feels somewhat limp compared to the buildup that preceded it. Furthermore, although influenced by the buzzsaw tone of Nails or Black Breath, their tone is not realized or HM-2 enough to make it work.

In spite of some well-written moments of tasteful riffiness or grindy intensity, Burning Tongue feels stuck. Prisoner’s Cinema doesn’t live up to its influences and refuses to commit to its decisions, only making select tracks worthy of attention. While consistently formidable in the vocal department, instrumentals feel limited and tonally uneven, as tracks switch between cool riffs, ominous sprawls, and boring dirges without rhyme or reason. When all is stripped away, Burning Tongue offers a tragically simplistic hardcore punk album. The chops are there, but the songwriting needs a serious facelift. I’m not sure what movies they’re showing in prison, but I imagine it’s something like the 102 Dalmatians or Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb – not terrible but absolutely forgettable.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Labels: Aqualamb Records
Websites: burningtongueband.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/burningtongueband
Releases Worldwide: October 29th, 2021

« »