A quick glance at my bio will reveal that besides large helpings of bourbon, red meat, and snuggling, the quickest way to the Hol where my heart should reside is groove and thrash infused heavy/power metal. If asked to pack my metal suitcase for an involuntary extended stay upon a remote desert island, I would probably just quickly raid the discographies of Nevermore, Iced Earth, Theocracy, and Symphony X and call it good. These bands all know how to combine the heaviness of thrash and/or groove with the beautiful melodies and vocal immensity that power metal provides, and their combined catalogs could certainly keep me carrying on as a content castaway for a couple of centuries. So, anytime a band gets compared to any of these genre heavyweights I must take notice. Needless to say, such comparisons mandated that I pick up Every Hour Wounds… The Last One Kills, the sophomore album from French band Parallel Minds.
The groove is certainly strong with this one. Groove metal gets a bad reputation when used in its simplistic and brainless forms, but add some genuine talent and creativity and it’s hard to beat. Guitarist and co-founder Grégory Giraudo has certainly been influenced by Jeff Loomis, as he’s adept at creating riffs that incorporate groove, thrash, and even blues as the basis for the songs on offer here, and his solos range from impressively technical to emotionally charged. There’s a diverse list of tracks with straight forward thrashers (“The Last One Kills,” “I Am C,” “Kolyma”), grooving hard rock tunes (“How” and “On Your Own), and longer prog epics (“The 52 Hz Whale” and “Syria”). “Syria” is a heartfelt tribute to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in that nation and features guest vocals from Orphaned Land‘s Kobi Fahra and Yossi Sassi, lending it an air of authentic respect and feeling at times.
“Why is the only mention of the vocals in the ‘positive paragraph’ about a minuscule guest spot?” you might be asking yourself. Well, when it comes to crafting great albums, every aspect matters… and this one kills it for me. Singer Stéphane Fradet has a decent enough voice, but the way it’s used is simply mind-boggling. The first problem surfaces pretty much immediately on first proper track “The Last One Kills.” After a competent air-raid siren scream, Fradet comes in with a gruff voice that sounds like the throaty sound a child makes while trying to mimic a belching noise. It’s an attempt to add some aggression to the proceedings, it’s used often, and it never works. The other issue comes when his voice is layered with high and low tracks being combined in an attempted harmony. Unfortunately, one of them is often sharp or flat and it all just sounds bad. Listen to the opening of embedded track “Kolyma” to see what I’m talking about. I honestly can’t fathom how this sort of thing makes it out of the studio.
There are a few lesser issues to go along with the vocals. The lyrics can tend towards the cheesy side with the otherwise well done epic “The 52 Hz Whale1” being the most egregious example. Opener “Every Hour Wounds” is a fantastically groovy instrumental opener that would have worked perfectly if it carried right into “The Last One Kills,” but unfortunately the music stops for about 2-3 seconds, dumping all of the momentum. They need look no farther than Symphony X‘s V, Paradise Lost, or Underworld for examples of how to use shorter intros to properly build anticipation for the things to come. All of this said, the album sounds great. The modern production highlights a delicious guitar tone that works perfectly for the groove and thrash riffs on display here.
Perhaps it’s unfair to compare Fradet’s performance to what I believe to be the Holy Trinity of Metal Vocalists — Warrel Dane, Russell Allen, and Matt Barlow — but that comes with the territory when playing this style of music. Had his voice been used differently, we might be talking about a very good album. Instead, we’re left with an album of powerfully tasty riffs marred by the fact that the most pleasing vocals are produced by guests. There are a few great moments, but it’s truly disappointing to see tremendous talent wasted in such a completely unnecessary manner.