Let us put on the hat of the elitist for a moment. What separates us from the mainstream pleb? When it comes to extreme metal, the answer is obvious. No mainstream music is so dense, complex and abrasive. Hit lists rarely contain tracks that actively, overtly work to create discomfort and repulsion. When it comes to less obviously anti-commercialism, though, the differences become less pronounced, and a multitude of heavy metal bands have indeed been part of what was considered hit music, back in the glorious ’80s. Felskinn tries to appeal to the hit chart-sensitive among the population while recognizing that classic metal doesn’t embody widely accepted characteristics anymore. Their revised approach means approachable songwriting, a polished sound, and nothing too outlandish or abrasive. But can these concessions leave the metal spirit intact?
In the classic fashion of the accessible, the vocals on Mind Over Matter are the front and center. Arising here from a specimen named Andy Portmann, they are admittedly the strongest aspect of the band. His voice is crisp and full-bodied, possessing a tone not unlike Ray Alder (Fates Warning,) with a whiff of Axl Rose (Guns N’ Roses) drawl on the high notes. The vocal hooks are the most prominent as well, and these are chiefly responsible for “Our Favourite Game” remaining stuck in my head more often than I’m comfortable admitting. The only time Andy steps out of the spotlight is when it’s solo time, and in these moments the guitars get a chance to shine with adrenaline-pumping licks up and down the scales.
But the performances remain shallow and simplistic in face of the songwriting. Felskinn construct the lion’s share of their riffs out of second-grade power chords, resulting in one-dimensional chugging that becomes tiresome in a hurry. Variety is in short supply, most riffs containing fewer notes than can be counted on a single hand, relying entirely on the vocal hooks to carry the songs. The utterly bland lyrical content gives little respite there, however, playing cliché bingo and abusing the repetitive choruses trope to the point of exhaustion. The lyrics make single “Our Favourite Game” a cloying experience, the repetition hits the hardest on “Dying Man,” where it reaches the level of Iron Maiden’s “No More Lies,” and the title track, which achieves such drudgery it seems twice its modest length.
When the band breaks out of this tedious monotony, they do show a modicum of promise. “Rain Will Fall,” for instance, has a decent chorus with a melancholic note, despite suffering from the flat writing in the verses. Moreover, “Bastards Out” is a highly energetic jam that crackles with the life that is missing from the rest of the tracks. But these are islands in a sea of bland chugs. I have little problem imagine some of these songs playing on the radio, which does not speak well for the music considering the current state of the mainstream. Better yet, the main riff for “Superhero” would sound familiar to the station’s listeners, playing suspiciously like a poor man’s version of Muse’s “Psycho.”
Without much originality, depth or genuine feeling, Felskinn find themselves short in compelling qualities. Those they do possess, like the proficient technical ability and adequate vocalist, are all but skin deep, masking a dearth of true inspiration in writing. The overload of underwhelming power chord riffs and paint-by-numbers compositions make for a bland listening experience, inoffensive to all but the most sensitive ears. There’re crumbs of inspiration to be found, sure, but they get lost in the sea of drab found on Mind Over Matter.