Someone asked me recently what the difference was between rock and metal. It seems an easy question, but although most of us will be able to distinguish between rock and metal quite intuitively, drawing the line in the sand is a more complicated endeavor. Indeed there is a lot of elements that come into consideration: heaviness, distortion, a willingness to buck convention, technical difficulty, the inclusion of harsh vocals, and instrumental solos… With so many properties, there exists a sliding scale in the middle where bands carry different elements from both sides of the border, including acts like Volbeat, Clutch, Deep Purple and Disperse, for instance. Bands from this no man’s land tend to evoke the dreaded one-two here: “Is it metal? Does it matter?” The answers rarely differ from “Some of it but not really” and “Depends on what you’re here for.” Now The Black Capes have risen from those unholy borderlands with a gothic slant. So let’s make it a three-for-two: “Is it metal? Does it matter? Is it any good?”
The Black Capes have a pretty simple formula. They take the simplistic structure of radio-friendly hard rock and splice Danzig on top of it. The music goes back and forth between low-key sections of mid-pace rock with the low pitch murmurs of a commercialized Type O Negative, and Danzig meets Disturbed gothic hard rock choruses. It’s catchy to a fault and executed with a calculated competence.
That single word, calculated, is where All These Monsters loses much of its power, and where the line between rock and metal (at least in the case of The Black Capes) is solidified. Where similar metal acts would often have an unbridled quality or at least the sense of a beast on chains fighting to let loose, Monsters feels too tame to impress. This is largely due to the unimaginative composition. The melodies often leave empty spaces, as if to let them sink in, but at this dumbed-down level, there’s little sinking in possible. There’s little spirit or variety across the riffs, and when the songs quiet down the issue is exacerbated as the riffs disappear altogether, making way for simple strumming to support the vocals, which hover between a low-pitch whisper and a croon. There are too many moments where I find myself waiting. The drums fare no better, setting a simple beat with few flourishes, which would not be a problem if the dearth of surprise didn’t bring the music down in the first place.
It’s not all a disaster, though. I did mention “competence” with the “calculated,” and indeed the band performs the (admittedly simple) music admirably. The vocals are a focal point, as is often the case with a more commercially minded release, but they are done fairly well considering the style. The whisper-croon doesn’t land well, but Alexander Wamp manages to channel an appropriate amount of Danzig-patented drama in the mid-range choruses. Though the guitars have little room for exploration, the solos are the rare moments they can push the undersized envelope. The production is modern, but not too smashed, instead retaining some brightness and punch that suits the modern songwriting well. The bass gets an extra feather here, as it has a sizable presence with a groovy, meaty tone.
These upswings save the disc from being a total letdown, but on the whole, it leaves me with the feeling that the band sacrificed quality for approachability. The overall sound is far from displeasing, and it doesn’t even need a lot of additional complexity to make it worthwhile. But there’s not enough substance. The riffs are sparse and unsurprising, the structure predictable, and neither give the instruments a lot of space to develop and spread their wings. Playing it too safe drains the music of character, and though The Black Capes approaches their goal, they forego the final leap of faith to make All These Monsters stand out.