Unless your band is Galneryus or Sulphur Aeon, a release date within a week of Christmas is about as suspect as it gets. Ice War, the moniker under which the Canadian solo artist Jo Capitalcide operates, doesn’t dodge the dregs of December either. Ice War’s new platter drops on the cusp of Christmas eve and is about as lousy as you’d expect a one-man traditional metal band to be at this point in the year. I don’t know whether that constitutes a spoiler, but if so, here’s another spoiler for you: the next Adam Sandler movie will be an unfunny comedy in an exotic locale. Some things are just foregone conclusions.
But that doesn’t mean there is nothing good to be mined here, if you look for it. The production, for instance, is actually very nice, if a tad thin. It reminds me of High Spirits in its light sound with great clarity. The bass has a classic twang that ensures the few scale-running tricks are not lost in the mix. The vocals are set forward, but not at the cost of the guitars or the drums, each of which has a classic sound as dictated by Thin Lizzy. A bigger surprise yet is the amount of healthy, catchy songwriting across the eight snappily composed tracks. I can easily imagine some of these riffs coming from Slough Feg’s stables, and that is about as big a compliment I can give a trad metal band by my book.
But where it all falls apart is the execution. Jo’s performances across the board are as sloppy as an eating contest where all participants have to eat a bowl of bechamel sauce with their hands tied behind their backs. The timing of every instrument is constantly off the mark, and oftentimes any attempts to change up the composition lead to noticeable and unintended changes in speed. The amount of dropped or false notes spur the idea that everything was recorded in one take. But worst are Jo’s vocals. He veers uncontrollably from off-key note to off-key note with the enthusiasm of a middle-aged cubicle worker. His voice is often matte and lifeless, and when it’s not, he over-exerts himself and lands even fewer notes. Out of everything the man should not have done himself, the vocals stand head and shoulders above the cornfield, ready to be mowed down.
It’s a strange dichotomy, and a rare way to destroy an album. I firmly believe, as I’m sure most of you do, that metal musicians are by and large the most talented instrumentalists in the business. Standards for technical execution are higher than ever, and as such, most albums that crash and burn do so with uninspired songwriting, unsuccessful experimentations or unmemorable melodies. Ice War flipped this around by composing an album with decent-to-good songwriting (despite some awkward transitions) and massacring it on the studio floor. Had these compositions been sold to a Slough Feg or a Gygax, it could have been a very enjoyable album after a little spit and polish. Instead we’re left with a deflated mess I can only feel sorry for.
The talent of the world is not divided equally. A favorite quote of mine, often misattributed to Einstein, says: “Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Jo Capitalcide is not a stupid man. He clearly has an ear for classic productions and he can write a doozy of a riff when the stars align. But his talents don’t lie in the execution part of the equation. Perhaps he spreads his instrumental focus too thin to become truly proficient at one role. Perhaps he has trouble recording to clicktracks, which is hard to avoid as a solo artist. Whatever the reason, Manifest Destiny might be the most well-written disaster of the year.